Tennis: Lloyd's `boarding school' for next Henman

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The Independent Online
ARRIVING AT the National Tennis Championships at the end of a weary season, when the only matches of consequence involving Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski are due to take place in church, it is tempting to dismiss the state of the British game as two weddings and a breach of promise.

But the message yesterday was that the Lawn Tennis Association's promise - to find and foster young talent in the wake of Henman and Rusedski - is not only being kept, but also may be pursued in harmony by the governing body and by independent means: in other words, the LTA and David Lloyd.

Lloyd, the Davis Cup captain, is in the process of building a new empire of leisure centres, "Next Generation", each of which will have a tennis academy. Generally among the fiercest of the LTA's critics, Lloyd is keen for his coaches and pupils to work alongside the training project outlined yesterday by Patrice Hagelauer, the LTA's performance director.

"The LTA have to let Patrice run his programme and get out of his way," Lloyd said, "but pilot schemes could be allowed to run alongside it. I would opt for boarding schools in various parts of the nation. Costly, yes, but I think it's important. I believe the youngsters should have more to occupy them than tennis, tennis, tennis. Patrice wants the programme to be centralised. That's the only difference between us. I would love to have a squad within Patrice's scheme, but independent."

Lloyd praised Hagelauer's plans, which are based on the successful French junior development programme he helped devise. "Patrice is good," Lloyd said. "He's been around and done his stuff. What he's looking for is co- ordination and continuity, avoiding a break down in communication."

It worries Lloyd that tennis in Britain is not more accessible, in spite of the deeds of it's "best two ambassadors", Henman and Rusedski. "We've still got to face facts," Lloyd said. "I still can't see the increase in participation and standards."

He added, with reference to Britain's record in the men's game: "I really do not believe we have been that unlucky since 1936."

One of Lloyd's brightest former pupils advanced to the semi-finals at the Nationals yesterday. Jamie Delgado, who sent LTA hearts aflutter in 1991 by winning the Under-14 title at the Orange Bowl in Miami, is the No 1 seed in the men's singles at Telford by virtue of being No 3 in Britain behind Henman and Rusedski.

In world ranking terms, Henman is No 10, Rusedski No 12 and Delgado is No 191, thanks to pre-qualifying for Wimbledon and winning his first-round match there against Ramon Delgado (no relation), followed by back-to-back ATP Tour Challenger titles in Brazil.

Delgado, 22, out-smarted Lee Childs, of Somerset, 6-4, 6-2. Childs, who turned 17 last Saturday, is Britain's most promising junior. He has a big serve and is keen to make the most of it. He is also willing to learn, and is being coached by Danny Sapsford, the title holder, who retired after losing to Pete Sampras at Wimbledon.

"In the juniors you can win some matches by putting a lot of balls in the court," Childs said, "but in the seniors you can't just keep the ball in play, you've got to do something with it."

Six feet tall, Childs is still working on his strength (mental as well as physical) and speed and the placement of his impressive serve. "Jamie played a good match against me today," he said, "but I learnt from it. Looking at Jamie at 22, I was thinking that I want to be better than him when I'm that age."

Delgado, acknowledging that Childs is a "dangerous" player, played his best tennis of the week to overwhelm him. "He has all the power in the world," Delgado said, "but loads of players have got great games and have never done anything. It's up to him. The bottom line is you've got to keep a constant work rate over a length of time and not be up and down."

That is sound advice, offered from personal experience. Delgado, 5ft 9in, was considered to be too short to fulfil his potential. "I don't think my physique was a problem at all," he said. "For a while I definitely didn't work as hard as I should have. I can't blame anybody else."

The Nationals may have been scaled down this year, but there is still pounds 7,500 on offer for the winners of the singles events. "I really enjoy playing here," Delgado said. "I have a good opportunity to win a National Championship. I won junior national titles, and if I win this week I'll be very proud of it."