Heads may roll in Davis Cup inquest

Henman and Rusedski will be given chance to air their views as governing body seeks to act after defeat by Ecuador
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The Independent Online

It was a significant weekend for Lewis; Richard that is. He was the one doing most of the bobbing and weaving at Wimbledon on behalf of the Lawn Tennis Association after Britain's relegation from the World Group of the Davis Cup by the Lapentti family from Ecuador.

It was a significant weekend for Lewis; Richard that is. He was the one doing most of the bobbing and weaving at Wimbledon on behalf of the Lawn Tennis Association after Britain's relegation from the World Group of the Davis Cup by the Lapentti family from Ecuador.

The LTA's director of tennis is a ready-made target having spent a decade looking out for the future of the British game, which appears grimmer than ever as the nation's two world class players, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, move into the autumn of their careers.

John Crowther, the LTA's chief executive, was asked straight out yesterday if Lewis had been asked to resign. "No," Crowther replied. "Nothing has been ruled in; nothing has been ruled out."

A pre-planned board meeting is due to be held at the LTA today, and the implications of Britain's return to the clay-court pitfalls of the Davis Cup's Euro/African Zone will be high on the agenda. Judging by Crowther's tone - "I am going back to the drawing board... it could mean new faces coming in" - the result against Ecuador will not be stuffed in a cupboard as quickly as many of the new rackets parents bought for their offspring.

Lewis was instrumental last year in persuading the LTA to appoint the Frenchman Patrice Hagelauer to work under him as a performance director to "lead the effort to turn talented young British players into world class professionals" in the wake of Henman and Rusedski.

Henman, who won both his singles matches against Ecuador but seemed preoccupied nursing the debutant Arvind Parmar in Saturday's doubles, which Britain lost to trail 2-1, said he had "total and utter belief" in Hagelauer's ability and experience. "He, and he alone, should be the one to lead the game in Britain at the moment," he said. "He should be given carte blanche to do whatever he wants." Hagelauer has been given a £5m-per-year budget to implement his plans.

Crowther said: "I'll be speaking to Tim when he returns from holiday in a week's time, and I hope to get some views from Greg as well."

Lewis has been under fire before, notably from Tony Pickard, who ceased to be Britain's Davis Cup captain after a defeat in Portugal in 1994. "There are not any quick-fix solutions to improve the state of British tennis," Lewis contends, "and nobody like myself is going to pretend there are."

Asked where he thought the blame lay for the defeat by Ecuador, Lewis said: "Where do you start laying the blame? I'm not sure that blame is appropriate at this moment in time. The LTA has to look at what it's done and put together and review exactly how we came to the situation of managing to lose to Ecuador on grass. But, when all is said and done, we actually had a team that on paper should have won the tie. The players have said they will also shoulder some of the responsibility, and I'm certainly not in the business of laying the blame on other people. The LTA must look at themselves and look at what needs to be done for the future."

Collective responsibility is admirable, but winning and losing usually comes down to individuals. Although Greg Rusedski's withdrawal from Saturday's doubles contest because of a foot injury was a blow, the tie turned in Ecuador's favour for two obvious reasons: Rusedski's failure to capitalise on a 4-2 lead against Nicolas Lapentti in the opening match, and Arvind Parmar's inability to convert any of three break points at 0-2 in the third set after taking a two sets to love lead against Giovanni Lapentti in the concluding match.

In neither instance was there evidence of anybody taking the British player's racket and playing his shots for him. As Henman has said many times in defence of his coach, David Felgate: "I'm the one who hits the aces, and I'm the one who makes the double-faults."

Henman, acknowledging that "the players have to have a look at themselves", said: "You have to go out there and make things happen for yourself. It has to come from within. We can talk about the structure and the coaching and all these areas, but you have to look at the players. We have plenty of players who are under-achieving."

What struck Hagelauer within months of arriving in Britain was that we do not have plenty of players at all, chiefly because the tennis clubs are not united in giving court time to juniors. He threatened to resign unless attitudes changed. "The way things are going, you will end up with tennis clubs for pensioners," Hagelauer said.

He has suggested that the LTA invests £10m per year into a scheme to ensure that young players get competitive tennis at clubs, not social tennis. "We will be finished unless the clubs support it," he said. "I'm not Arsÿne Wenger. I can't go out and buy players."

The football analogy is apposite. In Britain down the years, tennis balls have produced more footballers than tennis players. And while British football bemoans the fact that the quantity is not always reflected in quality, partly because of coaching methods, British tennis lacks the raw material to work with, or ruin, depending on your opinion of the standard of coaching.

In the circumstances it must be galling for the LTA, with their annual millions from the Wimbledon Championships, to see two families lauding it on the lawns of the All England Club: the Williams sisters, from California, followed by the Lapentti brothers, from Guayaquil.

The weekend's Davis Cup disappointment has cut deeply, especially after the memorable World Group ties in Birmingham, against the United States, albeit a defeat, and South Africa. Action from LTA headquarters may be swifter than normal. Such is the current mood of apprehension that Oscar, the stray, no longer purrs round Barons Court, and Josephine, the cat next door at Queen's Club, is keeping a low profile.