French win puts Britain in the shade

Questions are raised about coaching of juniors as boys' singles title goes across Channel again
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Frédéric Fontang has been the 18-year-old Chardy's coach for six years, and even though he works outside the French Tennis Federation he is still funded to do the job by the country's governing body.

Fontang, a former tour professional, said: "We have a good system in France and I have been working with Jeremy for a long time. We have worked to learn everything about tennis and how to fix things if they go wrong.

"Every part of France has good coaches and facilities to convert a junior into a professional. That's why the player-coach relationship is so important. In England I don't think the federation is so well organised. Not yet, anyway.

"The best way has to be established early in a player's life. I don't know of any good young British players apart from Andrew Murray, but he learnt his tennis in Spain!

"There are too many good young French players coming through for me to mention. It means being successful in France is that much harder."

In theory, that is what the well-meaning folk at the Lawn Tennis Association are trying to achieve. They introduced mini-tennis for four- to 10-year-olds in 2001, and claim 1.7 million children now play the game. Having already streamlined their committees and corporate side, their aim, according to a spokesman, is to have seven men or women in the world's top 100 by 2009. Big deal, you might think, but it would mark a massive progress.

As an LTA spokesman said: "When David Felgate took over two years ago there were only four men in the top 300." To come up with all the ans-wers to the demons in British tennis would require every section of a newspaper rather than the space here, but even then there are so many grey areas and more spin to deal with off the court than on it.

I was reminded that Britain might have been celebrating a home success in the boys' singles had the No 1 seed not withdrawn because he won two rounds in the men's event - one Master Murray. But the spokesman admitted Murray is an isolated example of success. Apparently our juniors are poor because our facilities are so poor. "Paris has more indoor courts than the whole of Britain and we can't play tennis all year round here," the spokesman added, stating that it would cost the LTA £1.2bn to catch up with France's facilities, which are largely government-funded. Not an easy task, even on the £30m or so the LTA receive from Wimbledon every year.

But what about attitude? Britain's Aubrey Barrett, a former professional who has recently taken charge of the British No 3, Alex Bogdanovic, argues it is more about how the money is spent. "No one monitors the LTA coaches," Barrett said. "It's jobs for the boys and if you don't do things their way, you don't work with them. There's so much animosity within our game, which is a shame, because we all want the same results. Even though I admire the way they're trying to get tough in certain areas, there's no way you're allowed to offer even constructive criticism.

"Alex still has a higher world ranking than Murray and I have assembled a team to get his game focused in the right direction, but he will have to do it without a penny from the LTA. The LTA are doing some good work with juniors, but they have no idea how to turn them into professionals."

Fontang added: "Winning this junior title is good, but it means little in terms of Jeremy's professional career. My recommendation for British tennis would be to build a system that aids young players within and outside the federation, with good coaches."

The LTA man agreed with this point, but he ultimately blamed the players for being losers. He said: "Players like Bogdanovic are only removed from the system if we've exhausted all possible options. The LTA's job is to ensure everything possible is in place for players to realise their talent, but ultimately it's up to the players once they cross that line and go on court."