Tennis: Hagelauer focusing on youth revolution

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The Independent Online
FROM A British perspective, the most important event here at the Samsung Open yesterday was a meeting between Patrice Hagelauer and 150 coaches. Hagelauer is the Lawn Tennis Association's performance director, which some may consider equivalent to a costume designer at a nudist camp.

Hagelauer, who helped revolutionise the development of tennis talent in France, outlined the LTA's latest strategy, which is directed at the root of the problem: the roots of the British game.

"I thought the clubs were doing more for the kids than they are," Hagelauer said, having spent his first six months in the job assessing the state play and suggesting remedies. "Everything will change the day we have junior programmes in all the clubs, mini-tennis, tennis schools, and competition from a very young age. The clubs need to become magnets to attract the young kids and help them become tennis players.

"If the clubs are just for social tennis, they don't need me. I will see in two years if they're moving in the right direction."

The importation of Greg Rusedski, from Canada, and the rise of Tim Henman, from Oxford, ought to have created an environment for success in the men's game in Britain after the big two retire. But the signs are not promising. And women's tennis in Britain is almost a contradiction in terms.

"A lot of kids are dreaming of becoming the next Henman or Rusedski," Hagelauer said, "but if when they knock on the door of the club and have to pay pounds 20 or pounds 30 to receive individual lessons and there is no competitive tennis, that is the worst thing that can happen.

"If the clubs want to survive in the next 50 years, they must open their doors to kids and help. That's where we are far behind other countries. It's a cultural thing. Tennis clubs here are places for adults. If they don't change, they will become clubs for veterans."

Some clubs may argue that the LTA, with its annual donation of multi- millions from the Wimbledon Championships, is responsible for nurturing talent. "People ask me if the LTA is going to help," Hagelauer said. "The LTA is expected to be the cow they take the milk from all the time. You can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have the numbers and the talent, you won't have players."

Next month the LTA intends to take to the road to deliver Hagelauer's message, visiting the county associations, talking to officials, coaches, players and parents, and assessing the best young players in each area aged 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. "The LTA is going to help clubs that do junior programmes well," Hagelauer said. "We are going to help the counties to push the clubs to produce more young players. Even this year, we hope to find 100 more of these talented kids who may otherwise be attracted to football or cricket. And we expect the numbers to increase every year, to 2,000 and 3,000."

As Hagelauer spoke yesterday, the clay courts at the West Hants Club were occupied solely by ATP Tour players from overseas. Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson, Austria's Stefan Koubek, Germany's Hendrik Dreekmann and Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui all advanced to the quarter-finals.

Koubek defeated Ronald Agenor, of Haiti, 6-4, 6-1. Agenor, 34, the oldest players in the draw, retired from the Tour three years ago and tried to set up his own tournament and a tennis academy. The ventures failed, and Agenor resumed playing, starting with satellite events, and gradually raising his world ranking from No 543 to No 103.

Agenor dreams of playing Andre Agassi again, having defeated the world No 1 in each of their three previous matches, never dropping a set and only conceding 12 games. They have not met for ten years.