The LTA needs to justify its £20MILLION wage bill as Brits are beginning to run out of excuses… as they win only FOUR matches between them at Roland Garros
- The domestic state of tennis at the professional level suffers blow in Paris
- A total of four wins were managed by the players at Roland Garros in awful week
- Cam Norrie, disappointed on Friday night, was responsible for half of those
Beyond the personal disappointment for Cam Norrie in his French Open defeat late on Friday night lay a sobering reminder for the domestic game.
A total of four singles wins were managed by players from across the channel in Paris before they reach the respite of the grass court season, which opens on Monday in the very British tennis setting of suburban Surbiton.
Responsible for half the victories at Roland Garros was Norrie, the durable left-hander of UK parentage whose development took place mainly in New Zealand and the US college system. Just two sprung from those who have wholly emerged from England, in the shape of Dan Evans and Emma Raducanu.
Emma Raducanu has lost in the second round of the French and the Australian Open in 2022
This does not sit easily alongside the latest financial report of the Lawn Tennis Association, which again reveals the sheer size of its operation and financial resources that would have most other nations looking on in slack- jawed envy.
According to the latest figures the LTA is employing 312 people, marginally down from 328 the previous year. However, annual salary costs have broken through the £20million mark for the first time, up by £1.2 m. That is before taking into account such things as public relations consultants.
This swallows up roughly half the annual surplus dispensed from the Wimbledon Championships, which will sail on creating enormous profits regardless of any tone deaf retaliations within the game to the banning of Russian players.
Britain’s Cam Norrie crashed out of the French Open in the third round by Karen Khachanov
The coming period is also when the most scrutiny is on the elite performance of the British game, which appears to be holding on reasonably well to the pandemic-led upturn in grass roots participation.
Fortunately for the LTA the next six weeks plays out on grass, a surface that naturally favours the majority of homegrown players while being viewed with distrust by some of their international competitors.
Amid all the controversy over the decision to strip Wimbledon of its ranking points — which might yet be reversed — it can be overlooked that the UK tournaments of the next four weeks have escaped the same fate.
A major reason for that is because the banned Russians and Belarussians, whose rights the men’s and women’s tour hierarchies are so keen to defend, have the alternative to play elsewhere in Europe.
So when the likes of Andy Murray tee it up at places like Surbiton and Queen’s Club over the next month these events will be carrying on perfectly normally.
Andy Murray decided to skip the French Open to concentrate on the grass season ahead
Murray skipped the French Open to concentrate on the grass, and witnesses to his practice say he is in excellent form and spirits. That being the case, and with Ivan Lendl back leading his coaching team, he is still capable of doing great things, given his mastery of the turf.
It may help that the burden of highest expectation will fall on Raducanu, who has yet to decide whether to make a late entry into next week’s Nottingham Open.
Raducanu is the type who is not cowed by an occasion and, while far from the finished article, the pace of grass is likely to play to her strengths. It seems almost incredible that she has yet to ever play on the Centre Court. She has been beaten to that by Jack Draper, who so impressed against Novak Djokovic in last year’s first round.
The Surrey 20 year-old’s level was startlingly good when he played at the recent Madrid Open on clay and he should be making a serious move this summer.
Jack Draper, in action at the Madrid Open, so impressed against Novak Djokovic on Centre Court last summer
While he and Raducanu are exceptional, there are — in addition to the established Norrie and Evans — encouraging signs of progress further down the chain, at least on the men’s side. There are seven British men in the singles top 200, with others making steady progress below on a variety of surfaces.
According to one player, a major factor in this has been the increased earning potential at the lower levels. This has been provided by both unofficial UK Pro League events and a revamped LTA performance bonus scheme.
There is also an overdue return to the policy of putting on more world ranking tournaments domestically, following the model that has worked so well for Italian tennis.
So there are causes for guarded optimism as the pre-Wimbledon events travel from Surbiton through Nottingham, Queen’s, Birmingham, Ilkley and Eastbourne.
With players from many other nations increasingly struggling to meet the costs of touring in this inflationary era, there is going to be less and less excuse for British tennis not to perform at the top end.
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