Tennis: Wimbledon maintain profits push: LTA building with clay

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The Independent Online
WIMBLEDON delivered its customary ace yesterday, announcing record profits of pounds 16.4m (pounds 13.4m after tax), a 16 per cent increase on last year's championships. Since 1980, almost pounds 100m has been handed by the All England Club to the Lawn Tennis Association for the development of the game, an investment which has still to produce winners.

One piece of encouraging news is that the governing body is finally getting round to clay to shape players. Three clay court tournament centres are to be built at a cost of more than pounds 6m, two of which are scheduled to be open by the end of the next year. This ought to prove to be money well spent.

On clay, the slowest surface in the sport, players require skill, stamina and patience to construct points in rallies. Lack of experience on the surface is one of the reasons why the British game lags behind most of the rest of the world, particularly the Europeans.

Ian Peacock, the LTA's chief executive, has contributed to a proposal to turn the Davis Cup into a round-robin event. He is concerned that Britain has not played a home tie for three years. Playing away often means playing on clay.

The building of clay court venues is part of a pounds 63m five-year plan to improve facilities, which was announced last year. Other centres, including the one at Nottingham, are to be developed into sites suitable for international tournaments on grass or acrylic courts. A total of pounds 23m will be spent on new tournament sites and training facilities.

Peacock said: 'The success of the championships and our partnership with Wimbledon has meant that we can expand our support for the training of leading players and fund the construction of modern facilities needed by players of all abilities.'

The need remains acute. Though there were some spirited performances by Britons at Wimbledon, the nation will end the year with only two players ranked in the world top 100, Jeremy Bates (97) and Clare Wood (84).

Wimbledon profits represent 60 per cent of the LTA's gross income of pounds 22m. More was spent this year on national training (pounds 2.6m) and development (pounds 2.3m), while administration accounted for pounds 2.3m.

The 18 per cent increase in funding for the National Training Department meant that a larger number of players received coaching support and opportunities to compete at home and overseas. The department is responsible for the development of 250 of the country's leading players.

By promoting satellite tournaments, the LTA has helped players improve their ranking and gain valuable experience against international competition. The 21 events on the Reebok Tour also offer players opportunities to learn and earn.

After spending the 1970s watching the growth of the professional game and doing little to keep pace with it, the LTA is not finding it easy to catch up. The indoor tennis initiative, however, has created 26 centres to date. Five more are under construction and a further nine are in the planning stage.