Andy Murray is never one to shirk a battle on a tennis court and tomorrow the 21-year-old Scot will come out fighting off it with the publication of his autobiography. In 'Hitting Back' Murray is openly critical of both his British playing colleagues and the Lawn Tennis Association.
Murray is already No 12 in the world rankings, but such is the dearth of British talent that the next Briton on the list is Jamie Baker, who is ranked No 240. Britain's women have made some progress this year, with Anne Keothavong becoming the first to break into the world's top 100 since 1999, but there is still no sign of a female player with the potential to approach the game’s highest ranks.
"There is something wrong with the mentality and work ethic of most of the British players," Murray writes. "There doesn’t seem to be anyone who's brutally honest about it either. I think the best way is to confront it, especially when it has been so bad for so long. Someone in authority at British tennis should come out and say: 'Look we're doing really badly. We're not good enough. We must make some changes'."
Murray says that when he goes to train at the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton he often finds there are no players there to hit with him. "I would say that a large number of British players only practise half the days in the year," he says. "The LTA have built the facilities, but the players don’t make the best use of them. When I go to the gym there never seems to be anyone in there. Basically, I have the equipment to myself, which is great for me, but what a waste."
The LTA financed the recruitment of Brad Gilbert as Murray's coach until the Scot parted company with the American at the end of last year. Murray says he was grateful to have had the time to work with Gilbert, but does not believe the LTA should spend so much money recruiting expensive foreign coaches.
"I think British tennis at this stage needs good, experienced fitness coaches and physiotherapists who understand the demands of the game," Murray says. "To me, that is more of a priority than the tennis. The players have to understand what hard work is."
Explaining his parting of the ways with Gilbert, Murray says it became difficult spending so much time with one person. "I guess I just got tired of it. There were little rows behind the scenes. People seem to think I’m too stubborn or strong-willed to listen to a coach, but I wasn't like that with Brad at all. I respected him. But I think the one-on-one relationship between player and coach is really important and that had more or less collapsed."
Roger Draper, the chief executive of the LTA, said today that Murray was entitled to his own opinion but added: "This is clearly a little confusing coming from someone who benefits as much as he does from our world-class facilities."
Draper said the LTA was beginning to make the best possible use of the National Tennis Centre as a training base for players and as a tournament venue. He said that the centre was generally used during the week by players aged between seven and 16 – who would therefore not be suitable training partners for Murray – and as a tournament venue at the weekend.
"In terms of indoor court usage the courts are full from 8am till 9pm 80 per cent of the time during the winter months and 60 per cent of the time in the summer, when players obviously have the option of outdoor hard, clay and grass courts," Draper said.
"The fitness of players has been an issue in the past, which is why we have invested in world-class sports science facilities and a team dedicated to sports science which did not exist 18 months ago. The comprehensive testing and screening process that our athletes undergo allows the team to identify areas that need to be improved, but ultimately it is up to the players themselves to put in the hard work.
"The players are aware that a lack of discipline in any aspect of their lives will have a direct impact on the level of support that they receive from the governing body, either through funding or access to the NTC."
Draper said that leading coaches had been recruited to work not only with British players but also to offer help and advice to British coaches. "The results on the women’s side speak for themselves since Carl Maes and Nigel Sears came on board with their team of British and international coaches," Draper said.
"Leon Smith and Colin Beecher work closely with Paul Annacone, who is himself focused on those players making the transition between the junior and men's game and works closely with the likes of James Davidson and Arvind Parmar. Since Andy decided to part company with Brad Gilbert, Brad has been working with Alex Bogdanovic."
'Hitting Back', Andy Murray's autobiography, is published on 5 June by Random House (£18.99 hardback)