In recent years there has been a fair bit of hand-wringing and worry regarding the next generation of British tennis hopes.
While Andy Murray has pushed at the very top of the men’s game and Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund have both reached grand slam semi-finals, the rungs below are less well populated.
Cameron Norrie and Heather Watson are ranked within the top 100, but both failed to make a dent in the singles draws at Wimbledon. Lesser-known names Jay Clarke, Harriet Dart and Katie Swan all enjoyed early-round success, but there was little else to cheer for the home fans.
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Wimbledon brings into focus the state of the British game. And more often than not the finger is then pointed towards the British game’s governing body, the Lawn Tennis Association.
The LTA has drawn criticism from pundits and players past and present and the picture at grassroots not wholly optimistic. Between 2006 and 2016 the Sport England Active People Survey saw weekly tennis players drop from 457,200 to 398,100.
In 2015 Britain produced a remarkable performance to win the Davis Cup for the first time in 79 years – and yet the joy was quickly followed by sharp accusations from its star performer and poster boy, Murray.
“I don’t know where the next generation are,” he said. “We always had good juniors, regardless of whether we had a load of players at the top of the professional game. It’s concerning not to have any juniors in the grand slams because that is something we were always very good at. It’s not ideal.”
The LTA tried to address those worries last month, introducing a 10-year plan. Two new tennis academies at Loughborough and Sterling will be established in September for 13 to 18-year-olds, while a new player pathway will be enacted alongside it.
“There’s no doubt that there’s precious few high-potential juniors capable of going onto succeed at the highest level of the game,” admitted LTA performance director Simon Timson.
Amid the underperformance, negativity and criticism from some parts, this year’s junior championships at Wimbledon have turned up some potential British stars of the future.
On Wednesday three British juniors reached the last eight at Wimbledon for the first time since 2010. And while two of the three exited the tournament at the quarter-final stage today, they showed plenty of promise in the process.
While most spectators on Wednesday were focused on Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, those who turned up to Court 18 or Court 12 were treated to some scintillating tennis from Britain’s young guns.
Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong, respected British coach Nigel Sears, former British No1 Jeremy Bates and Goran Ivanisevic were all courtside to watch exciting 15-year-old Emma Raducanu take on Joanna Garland.
Kent-based Raducanu, who has already turned professional and claimed a $15,000 prize for winning a tournament in Israel in May, was very impressive, beating Garland 7-5, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals.
Raducanu, who was born in Canada to Chinese and Romanian parents but competes for Great Britain, converted all three of her break points to clinch a tight first set before using her rock-solid backhand to dictate and pull clear in the second.
She was out-classed in yesterday’s match against No2 seed and favourite Iga Swiatek and therefore failed to become the first Brit to reach the juniors’ semi-finals since Laura Robson in 2010. But the raw talent is definitely there.
Anton Matusevich, meanwhile, was dominant in winning his match against Finland’s Otto Virtanen to join Raducanu in the last eight on Wednesday.
The tall right-hander, 17, was a picture of control, using his big first serve and booming ground strokes to take the first set 6-1 in just 19 minutes. He then broke at the first opportunity in the second to close it out 6-3. There was disappointment today though as he fell to China’s Tao Mu in the quarter-final.
However, the best was yet to come. Jack Draper, a stylish 16-year-old left-hander with lovely technique, showed grit to come from a set down and beat 11th seed American Tristan Boyer.
Draper, the son of former LTA chief executive Roger, then went one step further today, becoming the first British boy since Edmund five years ago to reach the last four by beating Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti. Once again he came from behind, triumphing 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-1.
If he were to win his next two matches – starting with Colombia’s fifth seed Nicolas Mejia in the semi-final – he would become the first Brit to win the Wimbledon boys’ title since Stanley Matthews, son of the former footballer of the same name, way back in 1962.
Britain’s player pool may be shrinking, other countries’ grassroots set-ups may be more productive and coaching may be imperfect, but Raducanu, Matusevich and Draper showed the talent is still creeping through. Whether that’s in spite of the system or because of it is another question.
Source : CityA.M.