Coaching armada to rule British tennis

Group behind Spanish success aims to nurture grass roots neglected by LTA
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The Independent Online

A Spanish-based coaching organisation that claims much of the credit for the country's recent success is launching a scheme in Britain with the aim of training 1,500 new coaches and attracting 500,000 new players to the sport. The Registro Profesional de Tenis (RPT), which works in 112 different countries, reckons it can succeed in areas where it believes the Lawn Tennis Association has failed.

The RPT, which was founded 21 years ago and promotes itself as Europe's largest tennis coaching organisation, claims that 18 of Spain's top 20 players are trained by RPT coaches. Spain has 16 men in the world's top 100, headed by Rafael Nadal, the No 1, and is the holder of the Davis Cup. The country also has four players in the women's top 100. Britain, beaten 4-1 at home by Ukraine in the Davis Cup last weekend, has one man (Andy Murray) and one woman (Anne Keothavong) in the top 100.

Having operated in Britain for 10 years, the RPT already has its own network of coaches here. Now it plans to invest a further £500,000 in British grass-roots tennis through its "Grow the Game" strategy. Some courses for coaches will be free while other courses will be heavily subsidised through the RPT's links with educational establishments. The RPT will work out of offices at the Penns Lane club in Birmingham.

The RPT's coaching strategy is based on a technical approach to the game. The RPT believes that every tennis stroke can be broken down into several different parts, from backswing to follow-through. Video analysts study the strokes of all the top players to find common denominators that RPT coaches can pass on to young players. The RTP also encourages coaches to develop their own styles and philosophies.

Spain has achieved its success despite the fact that its national tennis federation has an annual budget of less than £4m. The LTA, in contrast, receives more than £25m a year in Wimbledon profits alone.

"Because there is so little funding in Spain, if you do want to get support you have to be really good," Adrian Rattenbury, RPT's UK director, said yesterday. "Most of the British players who are funded by the LTA wouldn't get a penny from the Spanish authorities.

"Only the strongest survive in Spain. I think it also helps that Spanish players stop playing junior tournaments at a fairly early age. From 16 they tend to play in Challenger tournaments, of which there are a lot in Spain."

Viva Espana: How Britain compares

* Spain have nine men in the world's top 50, while the ninth best British player is Daniel Evans - ranked at 451.

* In 2008, seven Spaniards shared 15 titles between them – Andy Murray (five) was the sole Briton to lift a title.

* Four Spanish women are ranked in the WTA top 100, while Great Britain has one representative – Anne Keothavong, ranked No 51.