Draper seeks 'next level'

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The Independent Online

You certainly cannot accuse Roger Draper of hanging about. Three months after becoming chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, the 36-year-old former CEO of Sport England took a large axe to the ancient oak that is his new preserve and hacked off three top branches, firing most notably David Felgate, the performance director charged with reviving flagging British fortunes.

So how does he proceed from here? With caution, it seems. Like Andy Murray and his proposed new coach, Draper plans to take his time over finding a new performance director, as well as replacements for the tennis operations director Rebecca Miskin and finance director Paul Keen.

So what was wrong with the departed trio? "It was more what was wrong with British tennis," said Draper, "the amount of squabbling, backbiting and infighting. We have to get everyone working as a team and raise the bar. It is not about the LTA, it is about British tennis. David and Rebecca moved things along, but now we have to take it to the next level."

Perhaps it goes with the territory, but in talking about "a clear plan and clear vision" and "driving things forward", Draper did not sound markedly different from his predecessors, Ian Peacock and John Crowther, as they reeled off one five-year plan after another. Perhaps the key difference was in Draper's unspoken acknowledgement that it might take twice as long.

"We have to focus on the 10 to 14-year-olds for the future. The country wants a Wimbledon champion, Grand Slam winners, Davis Cup success. But to do that you have to create the environment. Our job is to remove the excuses for people not to perform and not to deliver."

Nothing, said Draper, would happen before Wimbledon, five weeks away. "We have had 50 years of not being successful, so a few weeks more isn't going to make any difference. If you are going to go for the world's best, you have to look all over the world.

"There is a lot of quality around, so I don't want to get bounced into rush appointments. But we can't leave it too long. With Wimbledon coming up I am going to be seeing a lot of people. I am still listening and understanding and will continue to do so for the next few months."

The good news is that Draper reported having "a few chats over the past few weeks" with David Lloyd, the tennis centre millionaire and former Davis Cup captain who was incensed not to be offered the job Draper now holds. "I would be stupid if I didn't look at the people already experienced in the running of the sport," he said. Hear, hear to that.