Tennis: New name needed for tired game: LTA living in the past - After Britain's latest humiliation, the sport must accept radical changes, argues John Roberts

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The Independent Online
DOWN, if not out, the Lawn Tennis Association should cease its delusion of grandeur, put an end to the pomp without circumstance, and adopt a title which relates to the modern era: Tennis GB.

Relegation to the third division of the Davis Cup last weekend was the latest blow to the dowager's pride. The time has come for a spot of cosmetic surgery before endeavouring to present a bold, new face to the world.

A change of image would sit well with plans currently being made to separate the running of the professional game in this country from the stifling influence of the clubs and the counties, whose importance is in fostering the sport for all and encouraging athletic youngsters to give it a try.

Tennis GB would sound as if we meant business and really were trying to produce winners. Tennis GB would have the ring of a governing body which recognised that the sport extended beyond the back lawn and was prepared to take stock of personnel and make changes where necessary to ensure that talent is thoroughly scouted and coached to meet the demands of international competition.

Lawn tennis is an anachronism, a garden party game patented by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield in 1874. For all but six weeks of the year, of which Wimbledon is at the heart, it is a misnomer. Worse, it sounds stuffy. The rest of the world plays tennis, and does so rather well, as demonstrated by Portuguese and Romanians in edging Britain's best men into Group Two of the Euro-African Zone.

Tennis is played all the year round on concrete, clay, and a variety of synthetic surfaces for indoor tournaments. Britain's leading players ply their trade on these courts.

Since tennis went open in 1968, two of the four Grand Slam championships, those of the United States and Australia, have replaced grass courts with rubberised concrete. The French Open has remained faithful to clay, the predominant surface in Europe and Latin America.

There is no greater glory in the sport than winning titles on the lawns of the All England Club. Players from other nations assure us of this annually after lifting the trophies and the cheques at the world's most prestigious championships.

It should be emphasised that your correspondent would not wish for the grass to disappear from Wimbledon. Even allowing that some of the world's leading male players, aided by racket technology, appear to have become too good for the surface, the unique ambience of the championships would be ruined by such a radical change.

The problem is that British tennis consists of Wimbledon and little else, in spite of the millions in profits from the championships which have been handed to the Lawn Tennis Association for the development of the sport.

There have been signs of improvement, in terms of amenities and world rankings, at least in the case of a number of the nation's male competitors, but the losses continue to overshadow the gains. Humiliation in the Davis Cup is compounded by the fact that Britain is not good enough to be represented in the 32-team Federation Cup, the premier competition for women, which is taking place in Frankfurt this week.

Would Tennis GB trigger a significant change in attitude? In all probability, we shall never know. The notion was first floated in these columns more than four years ago, and the response was negative. Tradition, you see; albeit a tradition of failure.