Monthly Archives: March 2010

A beacon of hope for British tennis in Indian Wells?

Despite British tennis being mauled to pieces like an animal’s corpse in a barren landscape, with even the politicians launching an investigation into how the LTA spends its millions from Wimbledon profits and tax payers money, there has been a beacon of hope burning brightly in the Californian sun. Our British fighter, Elena Baltacha, aged 26 became the first British woman to defeat a top ten player since 1998 – when Sam Smith defeated the 1994 champion Conchita Martinez at Wimbledon – beating world number 10, Australian Open semi finalist La Na in the second round of the Indian Wells Masters 1000 event, in a battling and spirited performance in three sets 7-6, 2-6, 7-6.  

She has since unfortunately lost to Aussie, Alicia Molik, winning just two games in the third round of the tournament, however this represents a significant step in the right direction for the health of women’s tennis in Britain, which was helped by Anne Keothovong’s movement into the top 50 last year (the first woman to do this in a century) before her knee injury hampered her considerable progress in 2009.

Baltacha’s two victories in the main draw was the first time in 15 years that a British woman had won back to back victories in a tournament of this caliber. Both Keothovong and Baltacha are beginning to turn into the kind of role models young female juniors in Britain have been yearning for, such as the likes of Laura Robson.

Baltacha said of her victory against Na, “When I broke into the world’s top 100 in September last year, I felt like I really belong, and that was a defining moment. I’m not struggling with anything major, I’m practicing hard, I’m feeling confident and that all helps. When you are playing the better girls more often, you are seeing a more consistent, faster ball and unless you adapt to that, you aren’t going to survive. I have stuck in there, I think playing three matches already in the event helped but I felt from 4-4 in the final set that I was the one in charge of the match. It took about ten seconds for me to realise she had missed that last backhand but of course I’m elated. I’m playing as well as I’ve ever played and I’m really excited about my prospects.”

That feeling of belonging amongst the world’s best will hopefully transpire through into the consciousness of the young girls currently competing in LTA tournaments across the country. If they can start making headway on the WTA tour, then why can’t we many will be thinking as they struggle to keep a balance between their time on court and their education. Many of our top juniors drop out at a young age, because quite frankly unlike the Premiership Football League, which contains a plethora of British rags to riches stories to choose from, tennis has so few. Is it worth the risk many players and parents ask themselves as they have to make the difficult decision to drop their studies in favour of a tennis career which seems like a one in a million chance of success; there are no scholarships for tennis in universities like in America, thus the decision is a difficult one for many.

The problem in the women’s game is the number of girls actually playing the game in Britain. There are such a small percentage of girls who play the sport mainly from the middle-upper class bracket, however if Baltacha and Keothovong were to climb further up the rankings, would talented girls from poorer backgrounds begin to see tennis as a way out, like the Russians, who have had a number of role models to aspire to over the years? With Laura Robson hot on the heels of Baltacha and Keothovong, I truly hope that with an overhaul of the way money is spent, Britain will finally have something to cheer about in the women’s game.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at and follow her twitter updates via   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.  


Excited to have been chosen to interview the Bryan Brothers on their band!!! Love it!!!

I have been asked to interview the Bryan Brothers about their band for WATCH THIS SPACE….. 🙂

What another fine mess you’ve got us in – Great Britain humiliated in Davis Cup

As Andy Murray trained under the honeyed, cerulean Californian skies in preparation for the first Masters 1000 event of the year in Indian Wells, his fellow Great British team mates arguably suffered the most humiliating defeat in Britain’s Davis Cup history; losing 3-2 to Lithuania in the Europe/Africa Zone Group II.

The British media has been literally firing outrage since Sunday’s loss at the LTA (Lawn Tennis Association), which has had a considerable sum of money at its disposal for years, due to the substantial profits amassed through the Wimbledon Championships every year. For instance, Mark Hodgkinson of the Daily Telegraph spat venomously, ‘There are at least 29 million reasons why the LTA’s officials should have been burning with embarrassment in the Baltic last night. Britain’s governing body, received more than 29 million pounds ($44 million) from the surplus of last summer’s Wimbledon championships and has had that sort of money at their disposal for years’, yet could not beat a Lithuanian team of teenagers with a budget of less than 100’000 pounds a year.

How the Lithuanians were victorious in Vilnius

It all started so well for Great Britain, when James Ward valiantly won his debut match, trouncing Gringelis 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in a confident display on Friday. However, 19 year old Dan Evans couldn’t back it up with a second singles victory against Berankis, losing his first ever five set match, 6-1, 4-6, 7-7, 3-6, 6-3, highlighting his lack of experience under this kind of pressure.

Saturday brought victory in the doubles for Fleming and Skupski after they beat Gringelis and Sakinis, 6-0, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 leaving Great Britain with the task of winning just one of their reverse singles matches on the deciding Sunday.

After Ward lost to Berankis in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4, a heavy burden was placed upon Evans who battled hard against Andy Roddick look-a-like, Gringelis (ranked 269 places below Evans) in yet another 5 setter, but eventually lost 6-7, 7-5, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 and appeared teary eyed in the post match interview.

Great Britain’s task is now to avoid an unthinkable relegation to Europe/Africa Zone Group III, the lowest tier of the competition and will meet Turkey in a play off in July.

Curtains for John Lloyd?

John Lloyd, Great Britain’s team captain has come under attack after five consecutive losses under his leadership and the loss of Murray, adding more fuel to the speculative fire that Greg Rusedski should take over the reins of our nation’s team. Lloyd told the BBC ‘We’ll see about my future, it’s too early yet. We’ll just have to see how it goes in the next few days. I said it was going to be a rebuilding process. I would have liked to start with this win but it hasn’t happened.’

Significantly Rusedski’s ‘Twitter’ account currently reads, ‘Cannot believe we have lost to Lithuania in the Davis Cup. Unbelievable’ with a retweet of Mr Lloyd’s rather pathetic statement to the BBC: ‘it was a 50-50 sort of match before the start and they were the better team’ directly underneath. Reading between the lines was Greg attempting to highlight the pitiful negative thinking coming from Lloyd? Indeed, if our own captain believed we only had a 50-50 chance of winning the tie and expressed these sentiments even subconsciously to the team, then it’s hardly surprising they crippled under the pressure without Murray, who sent his best wishes via the site stating:  ‘Good luck to the British boys today. Hitting this morning but got Wardy’s match up on laptop by the court’ and tweeted during the deciding rubber, ‘Just found it on some weird channel on internet. 2 love in the fourth.’ I wonder whether Murray feels just a ‘wee’ bit guilty for leaving the lads in the lurch however we must not forget that it was Roger Draper, the LTA’s chief executive who actually encouraged Murray not to compete.

Should Murray take some responsibility for the defeat?

So whose fault is it really? Is it fair to lump the responsibility for the ‘death of British tennis’ on Andy Murray, who is single handedly doing more for its image than the rest of the LTA put together? What is more beneficial to British tennis, a win in the Davis Cup or Murray eventually winning a major by focusing on the main tour events? If the Davis Cup were to be dumped in favour of the Tennis World Cup, then perhaps he could combine the two. Significantly, the International Tennis Federation has announced plans to pay participants in the 2010 Davis Cup considerably more than in the past in response to the threat of the World Cup. Could this inspire Murray to compete? Or do we need a more charismatic captain and patriotic chief executive to lure him back into the fold?

Reaction from the LTA and other leading figures in British tennis

Draper has ordered an urgent internal review stating, ‘I share the deep disappointment and frustration at this result. Five defeats in a row is unacceptable. So I have asked the LTA player director, Steven Martens to review last week’s performance and result and report back to me and the LTA main board as soon as possible. That review needs to be swift and decisive as it is clear some real improvements need to be made.’ Couldn’t Draper take a look himself? It’s hardly rocket science. Perhaps it is this kind of delegation of responsibilities that has led the LTA into this mess, for there has undoubtedly been a series of miscalculations with a colossal amount of money misspent.

As fellow columnist Leigh Sanders has reported, Mark Petchey, Sky Sport’s presenter and former coach of Andy Murray revealed his belief that the money spent on just one national training centre in Roehampton in London has been a glaring fault under the leadership of Draper. He believed instead that ‘what we needed right then was 30 centres around the country to get a catchment area from every region, every county’ and went on to say ‘if you’re playing in Scotland for example, trying to get to a tennis centre with decent courts etc. is impossible. This money needs to be invested around the country, it’s that simple.’

Clive Carrigan, head of the Professional Tennis Registry in the UK (the LTA’s rival coaching license) took a more sympathetic approach to the loss stating ‘As disappointing as the result is there is no other way these guys are going to get adjusted to this type of pressure. Ultimately, it was a pretty new team and they lost by the odd break over five matches. Just because we are playing a relatively small nation in tennis terms doesn’t mean their players can’t play. We need to stick with the young guys and build a team for the future.’ However, it cannot go unnoticed that our lack of strength in depth in the men’s game is abysmal in view of the millions spent on building British tennis.

Regarding the LTA’s budget, I would have to agree with Petchey, as throughout my years involved as a county player within the LTA system as a junior, I have continually witnessed the way LTA funding has been concentrated on a few players in selected areas and often these players already have funding from wealthy parents anyway. I do not doubt that we have the sporting talent in Britain, but many are not picked up at a young age and without the financial backing of wealthy parents do not have a hope in hell of succeeding through the system in the UK. There needs to be a radical restructuring of the way money is spent in Britain. Public courts around the country are left in disrepair, empty and forlorn while clubs are elitist and expensive. Employ top coaches on public courts in poorer areas and perhaps we may find our strength in depth and the players with the desire and fight of the Lithuanians. 

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at and follow her twitter updates via   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.  

Is Murray getting too big for his boots?

Although I started the year praising Andy Murray’s cheerful new attitude and criticising the negativity of the British press, I cannot help but discuss how he has seemingly gone from hero to zero in a strange start to 2010 for the outspoken Scot. After endearing hearts and minds with his sunny and supportive performances with Laura Robson at the Hopman Cup in January and his subsequent impressive run to the final at the Australian Open, he’s managed to obtain a rather negative image as the new ‘diva’ of the game, pulling out of tournaments at the last minute, ‘going back on his word’ and being accused of not showing enough respect to third tier tournaments, regarding them as on a par with his training.

Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has started 2010 a little differently and is beginning to challenge his image as a one hit wonder.  His hilarious impressions of other players (endearing himself to the followers of You Tube), along with his often flaky performances and flimsy excuses in post match interviews have often caused critics to write off ‘The Djoker’ of the tour, preferring Murray as the more serious contender to Federer’s throne. However, with his continued commitment to the ATP tour and his country, Nole is beginning to dismantle the challenge of his young Scottish contemporary (they are almost exactly the same age, with their birthday’s just weeks apart) at least from a PR perspective.

Unlike Murray, who has pulled out of two tournaments, Djokovic played in Rotterdam (a title that Murray won last year), won the recent Barclays Dubai Championship and is committed to representing his country in the Davis Cup next week as Serbia face the United States in the World Group, meanwhile Murray is leaving his British counterparts to drown alone in the depths of the Euro/African zone Group Two.

Indeed, it cannot be denied that Murray is starting to gain a bad reputation amongst tournament organisers, journalists and fans across the globe for his recent behaviour. After pulling out of the Marseille event at the last minute, leaving the tournament without their top seed, because he claimed he hadn’t yet recovered physically or mentally from his huge disappointment in Melbourne, Jean-Francois Coujolle, the tournament director retaliated stating devastatingly for Murray that, ‘He can’t know what it is to keep his word. A week ago, he asked me for a wildcard to play doubles with his brother Jamie and I gave him one. A few days ago he asked me for five hotel rooms and I gave him them. The number one seed of a tournament should have a sense of responsibility. If he does not respect his commitments, he should be suspended by the ATP.’

Murray’s ensuing erratic performance in the second round of the Barclays Dubai Championship, where he lost to Serbia’s Janko Tipsarevic unconvincingly, spraying error after error from his usually solid backhand wing and uncharacteristically charging the net and serve-volleying regularly coupled with his candid comments in his press conference have added more fuel to the fire.

Following his loss, Murray commented nonchalantly, ‘I would like to have won, but it’s not the end of the world. If it was a grand slam or something, my tactics and game style would have been a bit different. I was trying different things, so I made more mistakes than normal, I went for a lot. I said at the start of the year, that when you’re getting ready for the big events, you need to try some things. The stuff that I was doing in the matches here are similar to what I’d be doing if I was training this week. I’d be playing practice sets and working on serve-volleying and coming forward, you know and taking more risks.’

In other words, that despite being reputed to have been paid around $250’000 to guarantee his appearance and accommodated in the seven star Burj al Arab hotel (which would cost us mere mortals an approximate £2400 per night), he had the stupidity or audacity to describe the Third tier Dubai ATP Tour 500 tournament on a par with his practice ‘knock around’ sets with Miles Maclaghan. It was claimed by The Times newspaper that a veteran sport’s journalist almost walked out in protest.

Has Mr Murray got too big for his Adidas boots? Are Adidas in fact secretly wishing they’d stayed with his nemesis Nole?

In response to Murray’s words, Djokovic, a Players’ representative on the ATP Council thought Murray was wrong to use Dubai as an experiment and said diplomatically, ‘You carry certain responsibility when you are in the world’s top five. You cannot just go out there and practice. Every tournament is important. That’s the way I accepted every tournament in my professional career. There are not just a lot of expectations from ourselves and our people that are surrounding us. It’s about the tournament and people who come to watch’; in doing so cementing himself as a professional with his binary opposite Murray as unprofessional, while simultaneously showing a high level of respect for tennis fans and tournament directors alike; a sharp move more customary during a presidential election than a post match interview.

Indeed, Novak’s gutsy performances in Dubai where he defended a title for the first time have added building blocks to the foundations of his exquisite public relations skills, as his last four matches went to three sets and in both the quarter and the semi finals he battled back from being a set down. He commented during the tournament, ‘Today was another example of how much I believe in myself and how much I fight until the end’; fighting talk from the World number 4.

Yet another blow to Murray’s reputation came from Colm McLoughlin, managing director of Dubai Duty Free, the owners and organisers of the 18 year old tournament, who obviously already dismayed by the absence of a certain Swiss player who was sidelined with a lung infection, responded by saying, ‘We are not disputing Andy’s effort, but the comments he made after the match have caused concern. Many fans have come up to us and said that he seemed to have indicated Dubai was simply a warm up tournament. His management company tell us that Andy tends to be very candid but we would love to see him clarify what he meant.’ He also apparently wrote a strongly worded letter to Murray’s management company, 19 Entertainment, one would assume for an apology or at least an explanation.

It cannot go unnoticed of the hypocrisy involved with a tournament already embroiled in controversy after banning Israeli Shahar Peer from even competing in last year’s event; it seems the lucrative event would like to pick and choose its competitors. Can a tournament expect the same level of treatment from the top stars of the game as a Grand Slam? Perhaps they haven‘t heard of a little concept called karma (treat others how you would want to be treated in return or face the consequences).

Perhaps the glitz and glamour of the Dubai tournament, where players are treated like royalty, feted by Sheiks, taken to all of the best parties and housed in seven star luxury was always going to be more Nole’s ‘thing’ and computer gaming enthusiast Murray will prove wise to treat it as a warm up event? Will Novak’s commitments in the Davis Cup prove costly in the long run?

It’s interesting to note that Murray has played just 17 tournaments in the past year that hold ranking points, fewer than any other player in the world’s top twenty but has still managed to accumulate enough points to put a comfortable gap of one thousand between himself and Del Potro at number 5 in the ATP World rankings.

Who is getting the balance right? Does great PR win you a Grand Slam or will Murray end the year victorious over his Serbian contemporary in dismantling the domination of Federer? The battle continues to sizzle seductively on and off court.

Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at and follow her twitter updates via   She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.