An email conversation with Jeremy Bates: 'We're under no illusions in the Davis Cup'
Welcoming Serbia and Montenegro to Glasgow; Andy Murray's chances of a hero's welcome; Bogdanovic's refusal to play for Great Britain; Years of triumph and disaster at home and away
Monday 03 April 2006
Britain's Davis Cup tie against Serbia and Montenegro next weekend is being staged at the Braehead Arena near Glasgow. It's the first time a Davis Cup tie has been played in Scotland for 36 years. Is it being played there in order to capitalise on local support for Andy Murray? We're delighted to have a home tie after three and a half years on the road. Andy has helped hugely to raise the profile of tennis and it's important that we stage ties at locations throughout Britain. It's a fantastic opportunity to reach out and inspire a new generation of British players.
What's the venue like? And will the surface suit the British team? The Braehead Arena is a great venue. It holds 3,900 and is very intimate. I'm confident the crowd will get behind the team and create a fantastic atmosphere. The surface is a quick indoor Supreme court which we think is very good for our players and least favourable for them. We've always said that we would choose a surface that would suit our players and a venue that would help us.
This tie is in Group One of the Euro-African zone. What does Britain need to do to get back into the élite World Group and how important is it for the country to be there? If we win the tie we will be only one victory away from rejoining the World Group, which I think is hugely important. We're under no illusions. It will be a tough task against a very talented team.
Why does a major nation like Britain, which stages the most famous tennis tournament in the world and has comparatively large resources, struggle simply to keep a place in the World Group when small countries like Croatia and Slovakia, last year's finalists, are so successful? These European countries have a fantastic club structure and culture that enables them to have great depth in terms of competitive junior players. We are trying hard to raise the profile and change the culture of clubs in Britain. The fantastic thing about Davis Cup tennis is that any two-man team can win the competition, as we saw with Croatia last year. We've enjoyed Davis Cup success in the past, having been in the World Group four times over the last decade. This is a transitional period and we are all working very hard to join the élite teams in the World Group.
Tim Henman has retired from Davis Cup tennis and Greg Rusedski is in the latter stages of his career. Apart from Andy Murray, are the next generation of British players good enough to take on the world's best? Tim and Greg have been fantastic flag bearers for Britain and it's exciting to see Andy step up and perform at this level so early in his career. I think Andy's success has definitely inspired the younger guys. We have some talented players coming through and it's important that we maximise their potential. Ultimately it comes down to the self-motivation of the players. I remain very optimistic that we are moving in the right direction with the Lawn Tennis Association's Performance Plan, which in turn will create even greater competition for future Davis Cup places.
How surprised were you by Alex Bogdanovic's request not to be selected for Glasgow? Can you understand why a 21-year-old would turn down the chance to represent his country in the Davis Cup, and on home soil at that? And is his absence a big blow? I was disappointed but I spoke with Alex at length about this. He wanted to make sure he was 100 per cent mentally prepared for the next time he plays in the Davis Cup. He feels he's not quite there at the moment and I have to respect that view. He has had an excellent string of results over recent months and fully deserved his place in the team. I certainly hope I can involve him in future.
You have selected James Auckland, who is currently the 10th-ranked British player, to replace Bogdanovic in the team. Why? James has been brought into the team as a doubles option - he is currently sitting just outside the world's top 100 - and will give the team an extra dimension. He's been in good form and played doubles with Andy at the San Jose tournament in February.
One of the Serbia and Montenegro Davis Cup players, Novak Djokovic, is only 18 but is already ranked in the world's top 100 and recently beat Tim Henman. He's one of a new generation of players breaking through, along with Andy Murray. How do he and Andy compare with each other and with the other leading teenagers around at the moment? Novak Djokovic is a fantastic talent who has been hugely impressive thus far. He is part of a young and talented group making a big impression. Djokovic is just a week younger than Andy, is their youngest Davis Cup player ever and was the youngest player to figure in the world's top 100 at the end of last year.
Is Andy Murray good enough to win one of the Grand Slam tournaments one day? Can he win Wimbledon? Grand Slam champions are a very rare breed. Andy has all the tools in his game and the mental aptitude to go far. He's a winner and you don't make or buy that type - they are born that way. It would be an incredible achievement to win a Grand Slam, and Andy certainly has the potential to do it.
You watched Andy Murray lose in the first round at the Nasdaq-100 Open in Miami last month. He lost four of his last five matches on his recent trip to the United States. Are you concerned that he might have gone off the boil since he won the tournament in San Jose in February? It would be unrealistic to expect Andy to win every tournament he plays in. In the last 10 months he has improved his ranking from outside 400 to be in the top 50 in the world, an incredible achievement. He is still only 18 and still maturing on the senior circuit, so it's perfectly normal to have these fluctuations. He's had a busy schedule since he burst on to the scene so I'm sure this little bit of time off would have done him the world of good. I'm fully confident that he will be refreshed and raring to go in Glasgow.
People within the game of tennis sometimes question the place of the Davis Cup in what has now become an extremely hectic calendar. Do the players still want it? Tennis is a very individualistic sport for the majority of the year, so I think most of the guys really enjoy the opportunity to represent their country and be involved in a team environment. I think it's a hugely successful and unique event on the tennis calendar.
You represented Britain as a player for many years in the Davis Cup. What are you best, worst and strangest memories of that time? My best life experience was the 3-2 victory over Israel last year. I have never been in a team environment like that. The worst was probably when we lost to France at the Queen's Club in 1990. My strangest memory casts back to 1990, when we beat Romania in Bucharest. It was about four months after Nicolae Ceausescu was shot dead, after the revolution. I remember seeing a peace vigil in the town square and the city shot and bombed to pieces. We visited some orphanages; it was hard to comprehend the power struggle that went on during that very volatile period.
Attachment: The Jeremy Bates low-down
* BORN 19 June 1962 in Solihull.
* RESIDES Leatherhead, Surrey.
* PLAYING CAREER, SINGLES Twice reached last 16 at Wimbledon but lost to current French Davis Cup captain, Guy Forget, on both occasions. British No 1, and national champion six times. Highest world ranking of 68 in 1988. Won ATP title in Seoul in 1994.
* PLAYING CAREER, DOUBLES Won three ATP titles, two in collaboration with South Africa's Kevin Curren. Reached Australian Open final with Sweden's Peter Lundgren. Two mixed doubles titles at Grand Slams with Jo Durie - Wimbledon in 1987 and the Australian Open in 1991.
* PLAYING CAREER, VETERANS An established player on ATP Champions' Tour. Reached semi-finals of 2003 Honda Challenge at Royal Albert Hall but had to retire after suffering ruptured cruciate ligament in left knee.
* DAVIS CUP As a player, competed in 20 ties and 52 rubbers, winning 27 of them. As a coach and captain, was British team coach for four years from 2000 under Roger Taylor's captaincy. Since taking over the captaincy in 2004 has won two matches and lost two.
* LAWN TENNIS ASSOCIATION Head of Performance in conjunction with David Felgate, the Performance Director, responsible for developing and nurturing British talent.
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