Draper hastens next step in his revolution

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The Independent Online

Six months into his job as chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, Roger Draper continues to think big and aim high. Having persuaded one of the world's most respected coaches, Brad Gilbert, on board, Draper is weighing the chances of recruiting another, Paul Annacone, who worked for so long with Pete Sampras and is now coaching Tim Henman.

Having opted to open a recruitment website for a series of LTA executive positions, including the heads of men's and women's tennis, Draper will not have been surprised to attract in excess of 25,000 visitors, and a considerable number of applicants.

"We are at the quarter-final stages of the recruiting," said Draper, who will not get down to interviewing candidates himself until what he calls "the semi-final stage". The final appointments will be made within a month, and the aim is to have the new names and faces in place by the time the LTA's new National Tennis Centre at Roehampton opens on 27 February.

"It is nice to have world-class candidates like Annacone in the mix," said Draper. "It was a good mix, plenty from overseas but also the best of British."

Last Thursday Draper unveiled a blueprint for the future of the game in Britain, and while he is delighted with what he calls the "short-term momentum" achieved by Andy Murray's progress into the world's top 20, Henman's resurgence and the progress of others immediately behind the top two, his sights are firmly set much lower down the age groups.

"We have to get more seven- to nine-year-olds into tennis and give them early competition, so you don't need to have to teach them how to compete later on. There is plenty of talent; just get a racket in their hands. Get the right coaches working with the right talent in the right places. If Murray and his team in Dunblane can do it, there is no reason why anyone can't. It is about British tennis going forward, working together."

Draper acknowledges he has faced opposition. "When you push through change people don't like it, though they have been more responsive on the whole. But there is a lot more to do, a lot of hard work to implement these plans. We are in the 21st century and we need to make sure our youngsters are not only playing but able to watch top-class tennis, see a lot more of role models like Murray and Rafael Nadal."

Draper labelled the Stella Artois men's event at Queen's Club the most successful in Britain after Wimbledon, "a very corporate event" and pointed out: "Obviously you need corporates, but you need a better balance between them and the real fans.

"Wimbledon has done a brilliant job in recent times; there is a lot more emphasis on youngsters. More are coming through the gates in the second week. Coaches are now allowed to bring up to 20 of their kids free of charge. That's something we have to keep building upon."