LTA takes lead from Bollettieri to find future British champions

The Lawn Tennis Association has accepted an invitation from Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida to send a delegation of British coaches and young players to America, The Independent can reveal. They will observe how his system works and investigate what, if anything, the LTA can learn about player development.

The Lawn Tennis Association has accepted an invitation from Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida to send a delegation of British coaches and young players to America, The Independent can reveal. They will observe how his system works and investigate what, if anything, the LTA can learn about player development.

David Felgate, the LTA's performance director, has personally accepted the offer in a move that emphasises the LTA's determination to use all means at its disposal to produce future British champions.

Felgate, who has been overhauling British tennis development since he started his job two years ago, has said the LTA is happy for upcoming British players to make their own decisions about where they train. The LTA is not averse to funding young players who want to train outside Britain, be it at Bollettieri's or the Casal-Sanchez academy in Spain (where the upcoming Andrew Murray trains) or elsewhere. The acceptance of Bollettieri's invitation could increase the chances of greater future interaction.

The LTA delegation, comprising two coaches and two players, whose identities are yet to be decided, is scheduled to travel to America this autumn. "There is a big difference in what we do as organisations," Felgate, a former coach to Tim

Henman, said. "We [the LTA] are a national federation, whose job is to find and develop British players, whereas they [the Bollettieri academy] are a business.

"But they've got a great track record and if they're offering this opportunity, we're delighted to accept it."

The LTA has its own academy system, with major centres at Bath and Loughborough universities, and is currently building a national training centre, at Roehampton in south London, which is due to open next year, although that facility is not primarily aimed at young players.

Bollettieri, a columnist for The Independent, has been an instrumental figure in the careers of Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier and Mary Pierce, and has worked with the likes of Serena and Venus Williams, Martina Hingis and Boris Becker. Maria Sharapova, the 18-year-old reigning Wimbledon champion and world No2, grew up at his academy, where current students include Sesil Karantancheva, 15, a French Open quarter-finalist last month, and Nicole Vaidisova, 16, the world No31 and one of the youngest players ever to win a tour title. A variety of other Bollettieri alumni are peppered throughout the current men's and women's top 100 rankings.

"I've spent my life trying to make champions and if there's any way I can help British tennis, I'd be thrilled to assist," said Bollettieri, who turns 74 next month. "Producing great players, wherever they come from, is great for tennis," he added. "And as a tennis missionary, I want to be a part of creating great tennis."

The Bollettieri academy is becoming increasingly popular with British students, some of whom pay their own way, and some of whom receive full or partial scholarships, like Miles Kasiri, who spent four years there prior to reaching the boys' final at Wimbledon last summer.

In another development that augurs well for the British game, one current British student at Bollettieri's, a 12-year-old called Tara Moore, has been described by senior coaches at the academy as "the most exciting British prospect in a generation". Moore, who grew up in England and Hong Kong, arrived at the academy independently and was awarded a rare full scholarship because of her potential.

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