Get-tough policy culls the home 'losers'

Beyond Tim Henman - and at a generous push, Greg Rusedski - lies a familiar dearth of British hopefuls at Wimbledon. A suitable collective noun for them might be "an exit".

As the old joke goes: Why won't every Briton be knocked out on day one? Answer: there might be a rain delay.

It has been the same story for years. Aside from Henman and Rusedski, realistic home hopes of even a semi-finalist, in either the men's or women's singles, have been nil for two decades.

The Lawn Tennis Association has taken an annual pasting for failing to develop talent for most of that period. It has often been deserved. As one former high-ranking LTA official said: "The LTA thought they'd cracked it when Tim and Greg came through. What they'd really got was a foreigner and an accident."

The rise of that duo did not represent the true position of the game in Britain. Rusedski was a Canadian import. Henman's career was largely self-built. Neither was a product of "the system". Indeed, if there was a system at all, it often seemed intent on producing initiatives for their own sake instead of a meaningful framework, based on competitive values, which would actually produce players.

An embarrassment of riches from the All England Club's annual surplus from The Championships only served to make failure more ridiculous. How many other governing bodies would kill for a yearly windfall of up to £30m? How many would have the chutzpah, year after year, to claim they were about to turn a corner despite a track record of running into walls?

Set against this backdrop, the LTA's recent decision not to nominate Ian Flanagan for a Wimbledon wild card should be applauded. In future, it might even be seen as a turning point for British game.

A fortnight ago, 22-year-old Flanagan was a total unknown ranked No 866 in the world. He then eliminated Mark Philippoussis, last year's Wimbledon runner-up, from the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club and he was an overnight hero. A second win followed when he beat Romania's Victor Hanescu before the form book reasserted itself and he crashed out to Sebastien Grosjean.

Naturally the cry went up that he should obtain a Wimbledon wild card - the LTA makes nominations and the All England Club usually follows the advice. Unusually, the LTA ignored the clamour and said no. They said that if Flanagan wanted to play singles in SW19, he could chance his luck in a wild card play-off. He declined and subsequently also missed out via Roehampton qualifying. He lost there in the first round a week ago on a day of British performances described as "rubbish" by Mark Petchey, the LTA's men's national training manager.

The LTA's call over Flanagan's wild card nomination was sound, edging the LTA closer to credibility in its claims that it is finally on the right track. The logic behind it was that having a flash in the pan, albeit one as dazzling as beating Philippoussis in an important grass-court event, should not on its own suffice be enough to gain a freebie entry to Wimbledon.

From now on, players need to earn their place on the big stage. Year-round improvement, not two days' headlines, is the way forward. New LTA guidelines, in force for the first time this year, dictate what level of achievement (measured by rankings) is and is not good enough. By those criteria, Flanagan missed out.

The same "tough love" approach is in force in British swimming, which is run by an the Australian taskmaster, Bill Sweetenham. Just as Sweetenham's regime has received brickbats - most notably for setting tough Olympic qualifying standards that saw Mark Foster controversially miss the Athens cut - so too has the LTA.

But just as British swimming is in its rudest health for a generation, so British tennis should see the payback, albeit not immediately.

Achieving results in the serious business of competitive sport takes time. The LTA is only now laying the foundations. By denying the nation one potential feel-good story (Flanagan making unlikely progress at Wimbledon), it has signalled something far more important: the end of the culture of dependency. In the long-term that can only benefit upcoming players, Flanagan included.

Under the LTA's new rules, the LTA will only nominate British players for wild cards if a player is inside the world's top 250 (women) or top 300 (men). Players below those levels might be considered if aged under-19 (women) or under-20 (men), or if they have won qualifying events. No player will receive more than three "direct" wild cards in their lifetime.

The upshot this year is that there are six British women and seven British men (including Rusedski) with singles wild cards. The only other home hopes are Henman (by right) and Jamie Delgado, who came through qualifying.

With the obvious rider that all the wild cards, on rankings, are expected to lose in the first round, there may yet be the odd plucky battler. Elena Baltacha is a born fighter and could frighten Spain's Marta Marrero, the world No 62, as long as she is not still feeling the effects of a serious, long-term liver problem.

Amanda Janes, the British No 2 and world No 235, will take heart from winning a match in Eastbourne last week, although her task against the 11th seed, Ai Sugiyama, is not easy. Jane O'Donoghue is capable of beating America's Lindsay Lee-Waters, ranked 150 places higher at No 90 in the world, but will need to show her very best to do it.

Katie O'Brien, who will also sit three "A" level papers this week, will at least gain big-stage experience, if not a win, against Maria Sanchez Lorenzo. Anne Keothavong and Emily Webley-Smith complete the home women's contingent.

None of the men have easy draws, but the toughest has fallen to Alex Bogdanovic, who faces the defending champion Roger Federer today. A swift but plucky exit is expected. A win would rank as the biggest shock in the tournament's history. That really would mark a new era.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions