Two universities – one in Loughborough and the other in Stirling – have been named as the twin centres of the Lawn Tennis Association’s new plan to invigorate British tennis.
In September next year, these two sites will become National Academies, each providing coaching and support for around 16 players between the ages of 13 to 18. The LTA have pledged that parents of the selected juniors will not be charged significantly more than £5,000 per annum.
Critics might question why this plan has taken so long to put together. It has now been almost four years since Bob Brett arrived as LTA performance director, and effectively dismantled the whole national network of 18 High-Performance Centres.
Brett lasted only eight months, and since his departure in April 2015, we have seen two more performance directors hired from UK Sport – first cycling expert Peter Keen, and now the former bobsleigh guru Simon Timson. This fondness for appointing people from outside tennis has been a running theme of David Gregson’s six-year reign as the LTA’s independent chairman, which will be little lamented when it concludes in September.
Inevitably, Keen and Timson have had to familiarise themselves with the unique landscape of tennis, leading to this extraordinary delay in replacing the old system. Little wonder that there are so many gaps in our junior pipelines.
On the girls’ side, 19-year-old Katie Swan and 15-year-old Emma Radacanu both have a bit about them, but there is something of a wasteland in between. Among the boys, a pair of 17-year-olds – George Loffhagen and Aidan McHugh – stand out from a limited field, along with Jack Draper, 16-year-old son of former LTA chief executive Roger Draper.
The names mentioned above are all gifted youngsters, but the transition from juniors to seniors is notoriously difficult. A grand-slam nation would hope to have more balls to throw into the roulette wheel of professional tennis.
Meanwhile nine British players took the court in Nottingham, with a success rate of just over 50 per cent. The experienced quartet of Johanna Konta, Heather Watson, Dan Evans and James Ward all scored victories, as did 21-year-old Katie Boulter. But four others went out: Swan, Gabriella Taylor, Jay Clarke and top seed Cameron Norrie.