Smith tells young Britons: Use clay to shape your talent

 

As the first major event of the grass-court season limped towards its final weekend here yesterday, Britain's Davis Cup captain outlined the importance of clay-court tennis for the nation's future generations.

Leon Smith, who is also the head of men's and women's tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association, wants Britain's best young talent to spend 70 per cent of the year practising and competing on red clay. He believes that it is the surface on which players develop the best habits.

The LTA already encourages the top juniors to spend most of the year on clay and Smith wants the 18- to 21-year-olds to do the same.

"It's a demanding surface that will help accelerate their learning and give them all those important skills that they'll need when they go back on to a hard court or grass," he said.

Smith cited the example of Oliver Golding, Britain's 18-year-old US Open junior champion.

"Ollie hits the ball pretty flat and hard and is probably going to be a better player on a quicker, hard court," Smith said. "That's where he got his junior results and you can see already he's pretty confident on grass because he's got a huge serve and can hit through the court. But for sure he will play better if he learns how to defend, how to deal with the ball coming up high on his backhand, when he's running up for a drop shot, how he's receiving a heavy kick serve. If we can put him up against Spaniards who are making him work for hours on end, even if he beats them 6-3, 6-3 he's going to be out there for two and a half hours in 80 degrees – and that's going to be good for his tennis."

On a day disrupted by rain breaks, Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov continued his fine run here at the Aegon Championships, beating South Africa's Kevin Anderson 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 to earn a semi-final meeting today with David Nalbandian, who after completing a third-round victory over Edouard Roger-Vasselin went on to beat Xavier Malisse 4-6, 7-6, 6-4. Sam Querrey, the 2010 champion, and Marin Cilic will meet in the other semi-final.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who injured a finger in losing on Thursday, is expected to be fit for Wimbledon after being told that he suffered a severe sprain rather than a break.

Andy Murray, another early loser here, confirmed that he will play two matches at The Boodles exhibition tournament at Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire next week. Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Janko Tipsarevic, John Isner, Cilic, Stanislas Wawrinka, Alexandr Dolgoplov and Gilles Simon are also playing in the event.

Rafael Nadal, who chose to miss Queen's, was knocked out of the Halle Open in Germany yesterday by Philipp Kohlschreiber, who won 6-3, 6-4. Meanwhile, Roger Federer beat Milos Raonic 6-7, 6-4, 7-6.

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