LTA paints way forward on clay

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Keen to keep the grass from growing under its feet after Britain's encouraging Davis Cup win in Ecuador, the Lawn Tennis Association announced yesterday that the clay courts at La Manga in Spain will be used as a winter training base for the next five years.

In return for establishing its official clay-court training headquarters at La Manga Club and promoting the tennis facilities, the LTA will be given 250 free weeks of training camps for British players, ranging from Davis Cup and Fed Cup squads to intermediates and juniors. Six new clay courts are being built for the LTA, whose squads will be given free flights to La Manga, on the Costa Calida, in south east Spain, by Barwell Leisure.

Patrice Hagelauer, the LTA's performance director, views the partnership with La Manga as an opportunity for British youngsters to craft their game in heat and dust on tennis's slowest surface. "Clay teaches patience," Hagelauer said, "it teaches youngsters to work hard for their points. The more you play on clay at an early age, the better. I want it to be second nature for our youngsters to compete on clay, and La Manga Club well be very important in developing that experience."

The British-owned La Manga Club is a 1,400-acre resort with three championship golf courses, eight international-standard football pitches and 22 floodlit tennis courts, including a centre court with 1,200 seats.

Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, based himself in Barcelona independently during the European clay-court season leading up to the French Open last June. Rusedski believed his training in Spain would help his stamina at Wimbledon. The bonus proved to be his impressive Davis Cup display on a clay court in Ecuador less than two weeks ago as Britain regained their place in the World Group.