Service change as Murray collects new cheerleaders
Game's rulers hail a fresh hero - and get set for fans' frenzy
It has been a seminal and seismic week for British tennis, jolted from winter torpor by the seemingly unstoppable ascent of Andy Murray, top-level firing and hiring at the Lawn Tennis Association and an accompanying searing blast from that one-man furnace David Lloyd.
Murray's achievement in toppling Tim Henman as British No 1 is something the 18-year-old Scot insists does nothing for him. World rankings, and their domination, are his goal. However, for Murray to have overtaken someone who has for so long been the nation's tennis icon is a feat plenty of others are prepared to hail as extraordinary.
There will be a new voice involved in the cheerleading section following the departure of John Crowther after nine years as the LTA's chief executive and his replacement by Roger Dra-per, a move which prompted the blast from Lloyd. The former Davis Cup player and captain was more than miffed at being overlooked once more for a role he considers practically a birthright, an opinion shared by many, though not the LTA's administrative and coaching staff, whose comfort zone would have suffered early exposure to the heat of that furnace.
Perhaps Draper will generate some heat of his own. At 36, the former head of Sport England is exactly twice the age of Murray, and certainly young enough to take a vigorous broom to the cobwebbed corridors at Barons Court. He is fortunate that Henman's decline has not left the void so widely predicted until Murray sashayed on to the scene, and his brief will be to provide evidence that the vast profits handed to the LTA every year by Wimbledon are being used to more visible benefit.
The person in charge of ensuring the annual delivery of that bunce, which averages £30 million, is also new, a 52-year-old self-described Scottish Yorkshireman named Ian Ritchie who became Wimbledon's chief executive following the retirement of Chris Gorringe. A barrister and long-time toiler at the more rarified levels in television and newspapers, Ritchie has slotted impressively into the level of calm confidence which is the hallmark of the All England Club.
This summer will mark his first Wimbledon, and already the path is being quietly prepared for everything from the new roof on Centre Court to impending acceptance of the line-calling system Hawk-Eye, not forgetting the welcome problems which Murraymania will bring to the manicured lawns of SW19.
As Ritchie pointed out, Wimbledon has dealt with such matters before, notably when the young Bjorn Borg's stiletto-heeled fans attempted to follow him on to those manicured lawns. "We will make the usual adjustments if we need to meet them," he said. "This is one of those problems you are delighted to have. There was already a chunk of it on Murray's debut last year. Andy's is a fantastic success story and can only be good news for us. All the pressure will be a difficult thing for him and we will do everything we can to assist him to deal with that."
Except, Ritchie added, offering a helping hand in terms of a higher seeding, something which has happened in the past with both Henman and Greg Rusedski. "The formula for seeding is now fixed. We put in the players' results and rankings and it comes out like a sausage machine, though he will obviously get a credit for grass-court performance because of what he did last year. We are a global tournament, not a British one, and we want to make it as friendly as possible for all, but Murray will be an added attraction."
Another attraction whose arrival is still on schedule for the 2009 Wimbledon is Centre Court's retractable roof. Unlike Wembley's problems, Ritchie does not anticipate a move to Cardiff, though construction would be more straightforward if it were for a new stadium rather than a 1922 building, and the current deep excavations are not only for foundations but to deliver a large amount of air conditioning to Centre Court. "We would look extremely foolish if we closed the roof and then the court was sweating so much that it was not playable," Ritchie said.
Unlike the Australian and US Opens, there are no plans to introduce night play, nor to start the tournament a day earlier, as the other Grand Slam, the French Open, is doing this year. Wimbledon's middle Sunday will remain a rest day, too, though available for emergency use in case of weather extremes.
"But with the ever-changing commercial environment, TV deals and Hawk-Eye, there is plenty to consider." Typically, Wimbledon is casting a cautious, but not sceptical, eye on the Eye, the automatic line-calling system. "We certainly want to test it, but it varies a little from venue to venue. Everybody loves the drama of 'was it in or out?', so if it's an aid to better line-calls, then why wouldn't we want to use it? But we'd have to be satisfied it would work in the particular situation of Wimbledon, irrespective of how it works elsewhere."
Ritchie is all for monitored changes to make Wimbledon more interesting to the young Murray-worshipping brigade. "But that doesn't mean we are going to have Coldplay rather than the Coldstream Guards band on Centre Court on the finals days. We don't want to change our environment totally but we want to be seen as accessible." In that regard, said Ritchie, Andy Murray is playing a great role. It is an opinion which will be shared by Draper. And probably a relieved Tim Henman, too.
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