Andy Murray's Wimbledon win a timely boost in search for new talent

The chances are that any vaguely sporty child in Britain will be swinging a tennis racket around this week, imagining that, like Andy Murray, they have just won Wimbledon.

The courts in Britain's public parks may be a little more in demand and parents around the country will probably be inundated with requests to play tennis, or perhaps to buy the newly crowned Wimbledon champion's kit.

That, at least, is the hope of the Lawn Tennis Association, the sport's governing body which has come under fire for many years for a failure to produce champions. What better way to inspire a generation than for a British man to win the sport's biggest trophy of all in front of 17 million people on TV?

Murray, who grew up in Scotland and left Britain as a 15-year-old to train in Spain, cannot be claimed as a product of the system. Indeed, there is a strong argument that systems do not produce top players anyway. But the LTA, which receives more than £30m each year via the Wimbledon surplus, is under pressure to produce results. As Murray said, shortly after breaking a 77-year drought for a men's winner: "I think with the amount of money that's invested in the sport in this country, then it shouldn't take another 70-odd years [for another British men's champion]."

As he did the media rounds on Monday, Murray continued his theme. "I hope more kids start playing tennis but for that to happen there needs to be all the right facilities and it needs to be more accessible for children to play," he told ITV's This Morning. "I hope that is one good thing that will come from winning Wimbledon."

The imminent departure of Roger Draper as the LTA's chief executive, after seven heavily criticised years in the job, has coincided with a change in emphasis, away from elite performance to increasing participation and making the sport more accessible. Sport England has withheld part of its multimillion-pound funding for tennis until the numbers rise and, although the most recent signs are positive, the LTA will not know until December if it is to receive its full allocation.

Tennis has long been considered a middle-class sport in Britain and it disappeared from the sporting curriculum in state schools in the 1980s and 1990s. Tennis clubs had a reputation for being snooty and many catered very little for children. Once you start competing, with equipment, travel and accommodation to consider, costs can mount up. But in recent years, organisations such as Tennis for Free, which campaigns to make all public tennis courts free, are beginning to make a difference and the LTA's Aegon Schools programme claims to have put rackets in the hands of 400,000 children.

All these efforts are unlikely to produce a champion in the next few years but according to Leon Smith, the LTA's head of men's tennis and Britain's Davis Cup captain, it is a numbers game. "It's about getting more people playing, bottom line. You need good clubs, good structure, good coaching.

"It starts way down. It is about who's looking at these good six-, seven-, eight-, nine-, 10- and 11-year-olds, doing the nurturing work and the tactical side.

"What we try to do is make sure there are good programmes around the country as well, from 10, 11, 12, right through to when they come out of junior tennis."

But Smith also said seeing Murray lift the Wimbledon trophy had to be an inspiration. "There was a huge buzz last year [when he won the Olympics]," he said. "We've got to keep having that. If you don't have anyone for kids to look at who plays on a big stage, whom do they aspire to? That's what Andy brings. That's what Laura [Robson] and Heather [Watson] bring. That's why it's really important we keep trying to uncover more of those sort of players."

Powered by article was written by Simon Cambers, for The Guardian on Monday 8th July 2013 23.29 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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