Australia's youth revolution will never revive lost era

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The Independent Online

Britain would love to have Australia's current problems. Lleyton Hewitt has won two Grand Slam events and twice finished runner-up. Mark Philippoussis has twice been a beaten finalist. Three Australians are ranked in the world's top 25 male doubles players. The Davis Cup team has featured in four of the last eight finals.

There are three Australian girls in the world's top 70 juniors and five boys in the top 50. In Bernard Tomic, who is already on IMG's books, Australia has the world's top 14-year-old.

Nevertheless, Tennis Australia, the governing body, admits that it has some catching up to do, even if its days of global domination are unlikely to return. "The game has changed dramatically," John Lindsay, a spokesman, said. "It's become much more of an international sport. In the Australian Open main draw last year there were more than 50 countries represented in the singles alone. We've moved from being one of the dominant forces to being a strong tennis country - alongside many others."

Like the Lawn Tennis Association, Tennis Australia has been going through a radical restructuring of its player development programme. In particular, there is much more emphasis on identifying raw talent.

"We're taking a more proactive and aggressive approach," Lindsay said. "In the past we looked at who were the best young tennis players and tried to develop them. Now we're looking to see who the best young athletes are and we're trying to get them to play tennis. It's what a lot of other sports have been doing and we're having to catch up."

In another parallel with the LTA's recent blueprint, Tennis Australia has introduced more competitions for juniors. It has also streamlined its training programmes for talented youngsters. Five national high-performance academies have been established, with the focus on the 10-to-15-year-old age group. All the academies have clay courts, which are becoming rare in Australia.

Nevertheless, not everyone is convinced the governing body is heading in the right direction. Jason Stoltenberg, Hewitt's former coach, recently resigned as head coach at the national high-performance academy. Among his criticisms, he said there was not enough emphasis on sports science or psychology.

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