sport

LTA to streamline development

The new boss of British tennis will seek to streamline the number of youngsters earmarked for the elite game in bid to produce world stars.

The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) must trim the numbers of junior players backed right through the system to develop the Andy Murrays of tomorrow, according to chief executive Michael Downey.

The former president and CEO of Tennis Canada said renowned coach Bob Brett is "halfway through" his report into the state of Britain's high performance tennis centres.

Downey expects Brett's report to centre around tailoring coaching plans around individual youngsters, to churn out more top-level stars and Grand Slam champions.

"I think changes will be identified, no one's disagreeing with that," said Downey.

"Andy aside, are we really happy with the results of Great British tennis in the high performance level? No.

"Therefore that's why we brought in Bob to take a look.

"Some will agree with him, some won't, but it's going to encourage a lot of debate and that will raise good things.

"Bob's report will generate a lot of healthy debate for our sport.

"I generally think we support too many kids, we have too many events and we're just doing too many things."

The LTA have launched the Great British Tennis Weekend that will see hundreds of parks and clubs across the country offer free opportunities to play the game in four separate weekends this summer.

The British game's governing body is still battling to boost the grassroots game after the number of recorded tennis players dropped by nine per cent in 2013.

Downey assumed his role in January and has already admitted the LTA must act quickly to capitalise on Wimbledon champion Murray's success.

"In these events over these weekends, 10 years from now someone who turned up may become a junior champion," said Downey.

"So you need to have a wide pool but once that kid engages, if they show promise you've got to have focus.

"It's about knowing the kid, building the plans around the kid, working with external partners, knowing we can't do it all ourselves.

"It's not about 500 kids, it's 60 kids, that's what unfortunately high performance tennis is all about.

"We've got to have the fundamentals in place to take full advantage of Andy Murray's popularity and celebrity to bring new people into the sport.

"But for those identified as having special talent, the key word is focus and we've already had these discussions internally: we need more focus.

"If you think how difficult it is for a player in our sport to succeed, this is truly a global sport.

"It's tough, and that means we need to orchestrate more focus.

"So when you identify a kid you believe has tons of potential, then build a programme around that kid that's going to make a difference.

"We need more focus on that end, but we also need to know that kid is going to give his or her all.

"Sebastian Coe said to me that we're a 10-year sport, and what that means is it's 10 years until you have a significant breakthrough.

"So if you start playing at nine, you might not have a significant breakthrough until you are 19.

"And quite frankly that breakthrough might be winning a junior championship, and you haven't even hit your stride yet.

"So that's a phenomenal commitment from the player, the coach, the family, and I think the focus is what we need to get at."

Australian coach Brett has worked with Grand Slam winners like Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic, and now Downey believes he can help shape the LTA's future.

"Bob has been terrific, he's spent an awful lot of time talking to our coaches, to coaches outside the system, talking to high performance centres, and former and current players," said Downey.

"And I think he's probably done a ton of interviews, because he really wants people's opinions, and then he's going to harness all those and add his expertise to it all.

"I think he's made a mark already.

"I talk to a lot of high performance centres who say the two days he spent there was very insightful, and we're talking about a very special individual.

"He's spent the majority of his life helping develop champion players.

"But he's also worked with really young kids in Canada too, so he's run the full gamut.

"And his insight will be invaluable for us as we apply it down the road."