Is Andy Murray the last British tennis star that the nation will have the privilege of celebrating?
Well if Sport England’s recent warning to the Lawn Tennis Association is fuelled with sincerity, then that could be the disheartening reality.
With the oldest and most prestigious tournament getting under way at Wimbledon, now should be a time for celebration, an opportunity for advertisement and progression with a contingency for recruitment.
Instead the LTA is being threatened with cuts in valuable funding from the government body that distributes taxpayer money to sports.
The grievence is a consequence of a recent survey undertaken by Sport England, indicating that participation in the sport remains a major concern. According to the data there were 424,300 people aged 16 and over playing tennis once a week in a 12 month period from April 2012, an improvement on the previous annum. In fact - alongside swimming - it was the only sport to display an improvement.
Funding has already been reduced from £24.5m to £17.4m for the next four-year cycle stretching to 2017 and £10.3m of that has since been withheld amid concerns of the LTA’s mis-management of that financial package.
It still has a chest of £3.75m for talent development, but only received a one-year award of £3.35m for participation.
You just wonder what kind of message is it sending out to aspiring athletes who are looking to break in to tennis. Funding inevitably aids the exponential growth of sport, so what happens in the future if that’s taken away?
The LTA and Sport England need to strategise, and fast. A review of the nation’s resources and infrastructure suggest that there are facilities in place to produce the next generation, so may be we should be expecting better production from an organisation with a £60m turnover and a £40m National Tennis Centre.
There’s several avenues that the LTA could take in their search for evolution. The French have a vast base for their pyramid, with thousands of clubs (8,217) and more than 32,000 courts which ultimately provides a grounding for players from grassroots level. Or there’s the Spanish method where the number of coaches takes precedence over the number of clubs and courts whereby juniors are offered sufficient tutelage to develop before being thrown in to senior competition, generally bypassing the junior championships. Even Murray was a student of Barcelona’s Sanchez-Casal Academy which adopts an approach where only the hungry and the talented survive. Either way, it’s clear that the LTA needs significant investment at the bottom and strong leadership at the top.
The problem at the moment is that Great Britain doesn’t have an outstanding individual to fall back on with just one male and five females inside the world’s top 200. In the absence of Murray at the French Open, no British male contested the main draw for the first time since 1994. Britain’s second strongest male, James Ward, sits an incredible 214 places below Murray in the World rankings while Dan Evans, Alex Bogdanovic and Brydan Klein are the only others to feature in the top 300. That in itself is a worrying statistic, but we also have fewer players in the ATP and WTA rankings - 66 men and 27 women - than any of our competitors.
Britain needs somebody to identify with. Even through the diminshing enthusiasm that Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski’s tenures brought, we still united as a nation through sheer patriotic optimism. Following his US Open and London 2012 heroics the weight of the tennis world is now on Murray’s shoulders. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 76 years for Britain to produce another male Grand Slam singles champion onceMurray’s career expires.
The LTA will be praying for Murray to reign supreme at the All England Club in hope of inspiring today’s youth as Sport England demands that participant figures hit 450,000 by December. In other words, Murray’s achievements in the present will impact magnanimously on the sport’s future. Just enjoy watching a British star in action while you can.