From one private-equity millionaire to another: the Lawn Tennis Association announced today that 65-year-old Labour peer Mervyn Davies will replace David Gregson as its independent chairman at the end of September.
The news marks the end of Gregson’s six-year reign: a period in which the LTA has lurched from one direction to the next like a dinghy in stormy seas. Three chief executives have steered the ship in that period. But only three weeks ago, the latest incumbent Scott Lloyd told reporters that the LTA is once again at “Year Zero”.
At first, the priority was to invest in participation. In 2014, Michael Downey was headhunted from the chief executive’s role at Tennis Canada, and commissioned a hugely expensive “segmentation survey” that broke up British tennis enthusiasts into categories such as “Wimbledon Warriors” and “Seasonal Spinners”.
Downey’s massive cash investment of up to £18m per annum helped halt the participation decline, for which credit is due. But there are still plenty of sceptics, even at the LTA, who point out that warm weather does more to put bodies on courts than any number of worthy initiatives.
The professional end of the game has been the real problem area. A bizarre sequence of performance directors began with Bob Brett, a famous courtside coach, whose disconnect with office culture manifested itself in a habit of jogging around the LTA’s Roehampton headquarters in his business suit.
Secret Service | Simon Briggs' new weekly column
Then, when Brett left after just eight months of slash-and-burn cost-cutting, the UK Sport cult took over. Peter Keen and Simon Timson – two former Olympic bigwigs whose respective careers started in cycling and bobsleigh – succeeded each other in the post, while tennis lifers around the country rubbed their eyes in disbelief.
This lack of respect for specific tennis expertise is a recurring theme. In 2015, after the Telegraph pointed out that the LTA board featured “not a single person who has played or coached tennis for a living”, Gregson made a verbal promise to set up an advisory board with specialised experience.
After a two-and-a-half-year delay, a three-person panel featuring Tim Henman, Sam Smith and Jamie Delgado was finally announced last month – but the expectation is that they will only meet twice a year. Meanwhile relations with Andy Murray, whose legacy as Britain’s greatest-ever player has hardly been maximised, continue to be distant.
This has not been a happy period for the LTA, and the worry is that Davies – who lists his hobbies in Who’s Who as soccer, cricket, golf, rugby, Welsh art and antiques – will prove to be another cab off the same rank.
Of course, every fresh appointee must start with a blank sheet of paper. But this will be the fourth time in six years that a new man will arrive at Roehampton pledging to listen and learn about an environment he is initially unfamiliar with.