Flying pigs and female British tennis players? Monday, February 4, 2002.
With Tim Henman’s latest failure, this time in Australia, still fresh in the mind, MELINA HARRIS continues our focus on the funding of sport, with a look at the country’s tennis future.
A British star to become world tennis number one! Didn’t fool you for a second, did I? It has become an extremely sour joke amongst tennis fans in Britain.
In athletics we have Denise Lewis, in football we have David Beckham and in tennis we have Julie Pullin. Err, who I hear you ask? Our number one female tennis player has the same notoriety as Anne Robinson in the North Pole. I’m afraid we are the weakest link! Pullin, ranked one hundred and sixty two in the world, earns less than twenty thousand pounds a year – hardly enough to lead the glamorous life style associated with being Britain’s number one.
The reasons behind our failure to produce world class male and female tennis players are plainly obvious to any young person competing in tournaments within the Lawn Tennis Association’s (LTA) system. As a Middlesex County player myself, I have encountered many obstacles associated with trying to make it as a professional player.
I was only introduced to tennis through the encouragement of my parents, who both enjoy the game. Tennis was not played in my primary school and hearing 40-15 during a PE lesson at my all girls state secondary school was as likely as the whole class actually participating in any one lesson – ‘I forgot my kit, Miss’ was the favourite excuse much to my annoyance, as hockey is a difficult game to play at the best of times, let alone with only three players! I actually took the tennis lessons (all two of them) in the summer terms.
Therefore, like many of my peers, I began playing the game far too late to be spotted by the LTA as having the potential for further advancement as a professional player. As a nation, in not encouraging tennis in schools, we are seriously restricting the number of potential stars to choose from. The next Martina Hingis could in fact be playing rounders for her school team and never fully realise her potential as a tennis player, indeed never even pick up a racket!
Interestingly, the university’s tennis club has been described as ‘one of the most popular sports clubs at the University of Leicester’. However, there are only six female players available to our captain, myself being the only fresher’s representative on the team. She can hardly introduce Alex Ferguson’s rotational system.
What is going desperately wrong? The profits from Wimbledon, which amounted to 8.9 million pounds, are apparently being spent on the nurturing of young players. Where is all this money going?
Instead of investing this substantial sum of money into schools and tennis clubs promoting junior tennis, the money has been spent on young players who already have enough financial backing from their middle-upper class parents. Take Tim Henman for instance, both of his parents played county standard tennis and his grandmother played at Wimbledon. Enough said.
This lack of financial and social awareness can only be eclipsed by the Millennium Dome fiasco and is almost as absurd as Cliff Richard’s sickening rendition of ‘Summer Holiday’ during a monsoon at Wimbledon.
Refreshingly, Britain’s most promising young female tennis player is Anne Keothovong, who lives in a council flat in Hackney. I have had the pleasure of playing Anne twice in the Middlesex County Championships. During these matches I found her to be an extremely down to earth person, who made me feel like an equal despite her obvious superiority. A far cry from your average lacrosse playing LTA rated teenager, who would time and time again prove to me the game’s elitist reputation.
Perhaps the reason behind Anne’s unbelievable self motivation lies in her working class background. Nothing has ever come easy to her. Surely the LTA should open their eyes and look to young players like Anne to improve the future of British tennis, a game we invented.
I believe the LTA should make the game open to everyone. Perhaps by introducing a scholarship system in schools, not unlike the one employed by the USA. I know we hate to admit the Americans are right about anything, but we have to face the facts. They win. A lot. The LTA should most definitely ‘get with the progamme’ as academic players like myself are often too reticent to drop their GCSEs down from nine to five in order to train full time, unlike our American counterparts who can continue their education and ambitions on court simultaneously in their impressive Collegiate System.
However, I am afraid that the LTA will continue to keep their stiff upper lip and no fresh new talent will emerge through the system. Therefore, the media will continually pile the pressure on Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski to install pride back into British tennis. These immense expectations undoubtedly have hindered their performance in the past, such as in last year’s Wimbledon semi-final, for example, when Tiger Tim lost to wild card Goran Ivanisevic and in the process sending the nation into mass despair – so near yet so far.
Should we all just give up and simply wear Fred Perry, rather than try to emulate him? Hang on a minute. Let us not forget that one glimmer of hope – Anne Keothovong – who reached the semi-final of Junior Wimbledon last year. I hope everyone will recognise her name in the future.