Tennis: Pickard's angry exit as Davis Cup captain

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Tony Pickard will be missing from the captain's chair when Britain attempt to stave off the demotion to the twilight zone of the Davis Cup in their home tie with Romania in July. His contract will not be renewed.

A statement from The Lawn Tennis Association yesterday also announced that Bill Knight would be stepping down as manager of men's national training for 'personal reasons'.

Pickard, who launched a scathing attack on Richard Lewis, the director of national training, in the aftermath of last weekend's Davis Cup defeat in Portugal, failed to persuade the LTA to implement his recommendations for changes in the development of players.

After issuing an ultimatum to the governing body - 'unless somebody listens and takes notice, I won't be here' - Pickard admitted he did not think he had a 'cat in hell's chance'. Whether he jumped or was pushed is open to interpretation.

Lewis, announcing the decision, said: ' We appreciate the contribution Tony Pickard has made to try to raise the standard of our Davis Cup performances, but his post-match comments in Portugal made it impossible to consider his reappointment.'

Pickard responded: 'The whole thing's a joke. I was informed by Ian Peacock (the LTA's chief executive) that Richard Lewis was the man in the LTA's eyes to do the job, and unless I worked with him we would have to come to some decision. I came to the decision this morning, not them.'

After the match in Oporto, Pickard declared that the National Training Centre at Bisham Abbey should be closed - 'nothing's come out of it' - and said of the training department: 'The investment is astronomical, but the investment into the physical playing side is nonsenese. If the production of young tennis players was a business, the feet of the people running it wouldn't touch the floor.'

Lewis described Pickard's comments as 'a cynical attempt to deflect the focus from what happened in Portugal'

Britain have lost their last four matches, the worst record for 20 years, and unless they defeat Romania they will drop into Group Two of the Euro- African Zone. The National Training Department expects to appoint a new captain 'shortly'.

It had been hoped that Pickard, 57, would be given a wider brief by the LTA now that he no longer travels so extensively as coach to Stefan Edberg. With Pickard's guidance, the Swede has twice won Wimbledon along with four other Grand Slam titles. 'For the last 11 years I must have done something right,' Pickard said.

Knight, 58, has Pickard's friendship and respect, and Lewis, in announcing his departure paid tribute to the improvement he had made in the men's game.

Jeremy Bates, the British No 1, commented: 'My reaction is that it is a very sad day when you lose two people like these who have contributed so much. Bill Knight has worked like a Trojan for the last three years and Tony Pickard has been a very good Davis Cup captain. I don't know the whys and wherefores, but I'm sure the players will be very disappointed.'

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