Wimbledon annually brings the often debated state of British tennis more sharply into focus and following the widespread examinations and Parliamentary enquiries into the Lawn Tennis Association, this coming Championships could be the most exacting ever for chief executive Roger Draper and his team. Sensing the opportunity to strike an early blow in a much expected war of words, Draper seized the opportunity when invited to speak as a Sports Industry Breakfast Club and produced sets of figures that many of his critics find simply incredulous. Draper defended accusations of high spending by his association that has an annual budget in excess of £50 million a year. He insisted the LTA now relies less on the annual windfall from the profits of the Wimbledon Championships and said: “Previously 83% of our funding was coming through our major events, mainly Wimbledon. Now only 60% comes from that, mainly due to the increase of our commercial programme.” He also maintained tennis was one of only four sports in Britain to have increased its participation levels significantly in the last year and said: “We have around 520,000 adults playing tennis and in the next three years the target for Sport England is to get 625,000 adults picking up a racket.” Draper insists a successful British Wimbledon in his eyes would be for Andy Murray to progress deep into the second week of the event, for improving British women such as Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong to win three matches in succession, for junior champions Laura Robson and Heather Watson to make their mark in the main ladies draw and for British youngsters to show there is good reason to be optimistic about the future. Remarks made by Draper about the depth and quality of British junior talent caused the biggest consternation. Not a single girl took part in the recent French Open junior events while there were only two boys to score victories, Oliver Golding who reached the second round and Ashley Hewitt who went one round further. Golding also reached the quarter finals of the boys doubles with Russian Alexander Rumyantsev.
However Draper claims: “What we have now got is depth. There are eight, nine, ten, 11, 12 of them and they are pushing each other on. It’s due to the changes we have made in the last three years and the programs they are now on.
“They are much more at home now competing professionally and far more at home on different surfaces. They have got international experience and they are used to winning which gives them a big mental edge.”
Draper concluded: “The sport of tennis in Britain is growing and what we have got to make sure is that when the winning happens, whether it be this year with Andy Murray or in four years time with the next generation, we are ready to make sure there really is an explosion of tennis in this country.”