Murray wins at last – but British players lag

Andy Murray is celebrating after a victory at Queens, a crucial tournament in the run up to Wimbledon. Other British tennis players have less to cheer.

British tennis fans were treated to a rare sight this week – Andy Murray finally lifted a trophy, after a year of repeated disappointments. His victory at the Queens Club Tennis Tournament will be a major boost to his, and the nation's, morale going into the Wimbledon Championships which start next Monday.

Even now, in the Wimbledon qualifying rounds, hopefuls from all over the world are playing for a place in the tournament proper. But no one's too optimistic about the chances of the young British contenders.

Most will fail to get through and those that do will not be expected to make it past the first round of the world's oldest, biggest and richest tennis tournament, which has been held on its current site in South West London since 1877.

So what's gone wrong with British tennis? Wimbledon brings in tens of millions of pounds for the UK's Lawn Tennis Association, through spectators, TV rights and commercial sponsorship. This money is then ploughed into facilities and training for young players.

Yet the last British man to win Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936, (he won three in a row) and the last British woman was Virginia Wade in 1977. It all seems a very long time ago.

Present hopes lie with Andy Murray, fresh from his semi-final place in the French Open and his victory at Queen's on Monday. He's never won a Grand Slam tournament, despite being in three finals – but he's still ranked No. 4 in the world and suddenly playing well again after a big slump earlier in the year.

He's a lonely figure among the tennis elite, however. Except for Murray, no other British player even makes it into the world's top 100.

Why this should be is a mystery. Other European countries perform much better. France and Spain regularly produce good players with the current Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal hailing from Mallorca.

Even more northerly countries like Russia and Sweden produce top players. Sweden's Bjorn Borg was one of the greatest ever, winning five Wimbledon titles in a row. The great Roger Federer – currently world No.2 – comes from Switzerland while Novak Djokovic, who has leapfrogged Murray in the world rankings this year, comes from Serbia.

No hunger

Why is Britain failing to produce tennis champions?

Is it the training system? Andy Murray's tennis-mad mother Judy sent him to Spain at the age of 15 in order to develop his tennis skills. She had no faith in the British training structures.

Or is it something else? Some say the problem's not too little cash but too much. Young British tennis players are given sponsorship money, they claim, and just get too comfortable. They lose their hunger to go for greatness.

You Decide

  1. Why do so few young people play tennis?
  2. 'To be great in any sport you have to sacrifice everything else.' Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Sixty second soap box: Why tennis is brilliant/rubbish.
  2. A young and very talented tennis player has come to you for advice. He wants to become the best in the world – but is also a bit frightened about what that might mean for his life. Write down what you would day to them. What advice would you give?

Some People Say...

“I'd prefer to be happy than great.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why do young players go away to train in Spain and Florida?
Many tennis tournaments, like the US and Australian Open, are held in searing heat so getting used to that helps. But the main attraction is the quality of the coaches and intensity of preparation. Young people live, breathe and eat tennis in these coaching centres.
Isn't tennis a snobby game, played by white middle class people?
To an extent it is. The All England Club, which owns Wimbledon, is a notoriously conservative institution. But investment is now bringing good tennis courts to inner-city parks across the land.
Is football a problem?
It may well be. Young boys these days look around and see the money and fame which comes to top footballers and that becomes their ambition rather than tennis.

Word Watch

Commercial sponsorship
Many companies sponsor sporting events, as well as plays in the theatre and exhibitions at museums. There are two main purposes: to show the company in a positive light by paying towards things that people enjoy and providing a day out for executives, staff and important customers.

Subjects

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