Tennis: Lewis in riposte to Pickard: LTA chiefs face music after Davis Cup fiasco as heroes of '93 return to their roots

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The Independent Online
THE DAVIS CUP storm in Oporto raged north to Barons Court, London, yesterday as Britain's representatives returned from Portugal defeated, demoralised and in dispute.

Richard Lewis, director of National Training and Development at the Lawn Tennis Association, defended himself and his staff against criticism by Tony Pickard, who said on Sunday that he would resign as the team captain 'unless people, including Lewis, listen to me and make changes'.

'I'm not worried about personal attacks,' Lewis said. 'I'm here in a situation where I'm bound to be shot at. What I don't like is the cynical attempt to deflect the focus from what happened in Portugal. People have to stop passing the buck and look in the mirror. That includes the team captain, the players, and people like myself.

'I'm fed up with people blatantly trying to deflect the performance of the team on to other issues. It's been happening for the last three years. As I see it, the team has lost twice on clay and once on grass to opponents ranked below them. What has to be assessed is why we are losing matches we should win.'

Britain's 4-1 defeat in Oporto means they must face a Euro-African zone relegation play-off at home to Romania in July to avoid a fate described by John Robbins, the LTA president, as 'disappearing into the abyss of Group Two'.

Pickard summarised his criticisms of the LTA by saying: 'The investment is astronomical, but the investment into the physical playing side of tennis is nonsense.'

Lewis said: 'Tony has been very outspoken about a number of our first-class coaches, Olga Morozova, Ian Barclay, Ann Jones and Mark Cox, all of whom, like Tony, have extensive knowledge of the world game. And I would include myself in that category. He seems to be blaming everyone involved in national training.

'What Tony said on Sunday was completely different from what he was saying on Thursday, so we also have to look at that. On Thursday, they were completely confident of victory.'

He added: 'When everybody returns from Portugal, we'll assess the situation. It will probably be easier to deal with now it is out in the open.'

Jeremy Bates, Britain's leading player, said it was 'absolutely essential' that Pickard stayed as captain. He added: 'Tony has valid opinions and the LTA would be crazy not to consult him.'

Robbins, in common with Ian Peacock, the LTA's chief executive, hopes Pickard will remain. 'Speaking personally,' the president said, 'I hope we'll find a solution whereby we can continue to use Tony Pickard as Davis Cup captain for the foreseeable future. But it has to be an overall team effort if we are ever to succeed.

'Richard Lewis couldn't do Tony Pickard's role, nor could Tony Pickard do, or even want to do, Richard Lewis's role. This is where we do have a problem getting the right people in the right niches to create the overall strong team.

'I like Tony very much. I think he's an asset. But we have to make sure he's an asset within our structure. He's only really had to deal with one person before, Stefan (Edberg), with whom he's had terrific rapport and brought him to the top of the tree. That's a very different situation from trying to develop a team strong enough to get to the tree.'

The value of the National Training Centre at Bisham Abbey is under review, and a major restructuring plan for the professional game is being considered.

'We want to put under professional tennis everything we believe should be put into that section, including all player development and coaching,' Robbins said. 'What we envisage are three divisions: one to look after the professional side of the game, another the facilities, and a third dealing with everything to do with the clubs and the counties.'