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Henman: “This issue runs much deeper than a defeat against Lithuania”

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Originally published on: 12/03/10 17:20

“This issue runs much deeper than a defeat against Lithuania,” said Tim Henman of British Tennis this week after ruling himself out of the job that has seemingly become the ultimate poisoned chalice.

But while John Lloyd’s position as British Davis Cup coach hangs by a gradually fraying shoestring, if the current captain’s head must roll – the former world No.4 is the only conceivable replacement.

Boris Becker, a three-time former Wimbledon champ and Henman’s fellow sofa pundit, wholeheartedly agrees.

“I would like to see Tim involved in some shape or form because I think he’s a big role model,” he said this week.

And a role model like Henman is exactly what the nation with two of the most significant tournaments – and yet, a collective group of players seemingly worthy of the lowest tier of the Davis Cup – desperately needs.

An immense over-achiever during his time, Henman progressed to at least the fourth round of all four of the Grand Slams. He fought through the emergence of the baseliners to make the semi-finals of the French Open, US Open, and of course, Wimbledon – on four occasions – in an era where his playing style was plummeting out of fashion.

Henman’s ability to raise the hopes of a nation was his finest (and arguably most frustrating) quality, but that ‘Tiger Tim’ fighting spirit is now sorely required by a nation whose best home-grown players have no presence on the world stage.

A comprehensive re-vamp is once again the order of the day for the British game, but in the meantime, what we can’t achieve with raw talent, lets achieve by racking up a few extra miles in the legs and bringing out the odd fist-pump. Ramping up the effort level among our existing players and bringing through a healthy dose of ‘Henmania’ wouldn’t go amiss.

But Henman has no desire to take on a job at the LTA – who operate a system that was not good enough to develop him as a junior – not just yet, anyway.

“Maybe in three years, or in 13 years,” said the former world No.4, and you can’t help but think that the latter would be his preferred option given the current quality of the British crop.

If not Henman, Britain do not need a new coach, they need new players. But Andy Murray, though he had no part in Great Britain’s embarrassing defeat to Lithuania, believes the players should have the ultimate say should that moment comes to pass.

“I would like to think the players … should have a strong say on who they think should come in,” said the 22-year-old.

“It’s very important the players are comfortable with who the captain is.”

Granted, current captain Lloyd has presided over five straight defeats, but British Tennis has a problem far deeper than its Davis Cup coach, as Murray acknowledges.

“There needs to be passion,” said the Scot, speaking from Indian Wells where he is the lone male British competitor in the 96-strong singles draw.

“We need to have people coaching the young kids who love British tennis and love their country, they can teach them hard work and passion.

“Right now, it’s difficult because of the National Tennis Centre. All the best young British players, when they get to 15, 16, they go train at the National Tennis Centre. Not every single one but 90% of them.

“If I am a young British coach and I have done a great job with a junior and when they get to 16 they get taken away from me, I don’t want to be a coach any more.

“It’s like: ‘What’s the point?’ You don’t get to work with the kid that you brought up and that you’ve trained.”

But while Murray voiced his latest concerns with the development of British youth, Nick Bolletteiri – who has spent many years hitting the right balance coaching juniors to success at his Florida academy –surprisingly defended the LTA.

“To pick one or two people and start calling for them to be removed isn’t a cure-all solution.The blame game won’t work because British tennis has shortcomings with deep cultural and historical roots,” he wrote in his column for sportingintelligence.com, before adding;

“There’s even an argument that Britain is not a “tennis nation”.

A ludicrious suggestion?

Worryingly, those inside the National Tennis Centre seem to be playing to that very tune.

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