LTA chief responds to Heather Watson attack as Jamie Murray wades in on British tennis row

Murray had his say on the state of British tennis (Picture: Getty)

The head of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) came out firing on Wednesday after Heather Watson’s attack on the state of British tennis.

LTA CEO Scott Lloyd dismissed Watson’s claims that there is too much ‘politics’ involved in his organisation while defending the long-term strategy designed to boost the number of talented Brits rising to the top of the professional game,

The health of British tennis came under the microscope after there were no British singles winners at the French Open – the first time that’s happened at a Grand Slam since 2013.

All six Brits, including Watson, Andy Murray and Johanna Konta, fell in round one and Watson used the opportunity to take a swipe at how tennis in this country is being run.

Her main criticism was targeted at the distribution of funds in the organisation. She believes more players need help to support what is an expensive lifestyle and that ‘money should be spread around so there’s more competition’.

She also claimed that she would struggle to get involved in the LTA beyond her playing days because her ‘voice wouldn’t be heard’.

When asked about the young players coming through, she bluntly remarked: ‘What younger players? I don’t have anyone to talk about.’

Watson was critical of the state of British tennis (Picture: Getty Images)

It was a strong, and perhaps unfair, comment particularly given the impressive strides Jack Draper, 18, and Emma Raducanu, 17, are making and LTA chief Lloyd issued a strong response to her comments.

‘I don’t recognise much of Heather’s interview and I enjoy the direct line of communication that she has with me,’ said Lloyd.

‘In particular I think that the “politics” she talks about is not something I see at the LTA, I prefer to try to get things done.

‘I was disappointed to hear the references to lack of support given the wide ranging support we continue to provide to Heather and our elite players but they are ultimately responsible for their performances on court.

‘We have confidence in the new group of female players coming through on our pathway, after Jo and Heather ten of the next best 12 players are all aged 25 or younger. 

‘Finally, I have absolute belief in the performance strategy, the approach we launched two years ago, as a long term plan focused on what it takes to win at the elite level.’

‘They obviously have their funding programme, the PSP [Pro Scholarship Programme] thing, which they decided to go for,’ said Murray.

‘The mentality was, we’re going to support, really, really back the few and give them big support for I don’t know how many years, I don’t know, three to five years, perhaps? Then not much for anyone else.

‘There’s obviously the bonus scheme, but I don’t think that really helps other guys that much. Personally, I don’t agree with that.

‘The margins are so small in tennis to decide you’re going to get £70,000 a year and I’m going to get nothing, but actually the difference could be so marginal. And, at the end of the day, it’s someone’s opinion as to who gets the funding.

‘I have been in favour of players getting more support, but I’d be in even more favour of having a big bonus scheme, and everyone’s there to to make the money, and no-one has to make decisions. It’s just whoever wins the matches and does well gets the money. It’s simple.’

He added: ‘I don’t know for sure, but I think the mindset was if, by the end of the PSP funding, if you’re not top-100, then bad luck.

Murray is unconvinced by the academy plans (Picture: Getty)

‘But these days, players play until they’re 35 , 36, 37. If you don’t make the top 100 at 22, it doesn’t mean that you’re not going to make the top 100 or carve out a career in tennis. I definitely don’t agree with that, if that’s the sort of mentality, or whatever.’

The national academies in Stirling and Loughborough were another source of criticism from Watson and Murray warned that it would be a ‘massive waste of money’ if the LTA don’t get the right staff in place in their performance centres.

He asked: ‘Is it possible to say now if it is the right or wrong decision to go with that?

‘They obviously are so let’s get behind it and hopefully they have got the right people running these academies to get the best out of these kids that have been selected to go there.

‘For me right now, that is probably the most important thing is making sure that they have the right people there to develop the kids. Because if not, it is a massive waste of money.’

He continued: ‘In singles, there is no philosophy, no British system. You know if a British player walks on the court, this is what we expect to see. There is nothing like that.

‘For the academies that’s so important, they are taught to play with certain principles otherwise, I don’t know. That’s maybe why I don’t personally believe in it. As I said, time will tell.

‘You are employing someone in Stirling to run the programme but you are not telling him how you should be coaching, you are putting all this emphasis on what he believes in to be the right way. And the same at Loughborough.

‘We will see what happens. I hope it works, honestly. I hope it works. I want to see more players playing at the top of the game. I don’t think us as a Grand Slam nation we should only be having… we are getting excited that Liam Broady qualifies and we have six players in the main draw.

Andy Murray was among the British contingent to lose in the first round (Picture: TPN/Getty)

‘We are all excited about that. But really? Come on. We are a Grand Slam nation, we should have at least double that in my opinion with the resources we have available. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with that.’

Despite the doom and gloom, Murray admitted there were mitigating circumstances for the mass exodus of British players at Roland Garros.

‘I mean, it is a difficult tournament,’ said Murray. ‘Andy is playing [Stan] Wawrinka in the first round. No clay-court preparation at all. Evo [Dan Evans] is playing [Kei] Nishikori, who has basically been top-10 for the last five years.

These are not easy draws in very difficult conditions to play in as well. I think that has nothing to do with if things have improved or not in the country in tennis in the country based on one tournament where our top players lost in the first round unfortunately.’

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