An article about Robert Dee and other British players in the Guardian
PUTTING a face to the names of Paul Brighten, Robert Dee
and Adam Lownsbrough would tax the Lawn Tennis Association, yet these three British players have figured in the main draw of recent Challenger events in professional tennis courtesy of wild-card invitations and all have — how can this be put nicely? — virtually failed to trouble the scorers.
What makes this state of affairs extremely worrying is that the wild cards have been acquired at all, because the players have no form (they are equally stationed at No 1,472, ie, the bottom of the Indesit ATP rankings), but tournament directors have seen fit to find a place for them in supposedly reputable events. Ask people in tennis how it happens and they wink. “People pay — it happens all the time,” one official said yesterday, although there is no suggestion that this happened in these cases.
Challengers are one rung short of the ATP Tour. They are arenas where the scrapping for victory is often more intense because the rewards for success are so potentially high. Yet to have drawn a British opponent in the past two weeks has meant a guaranteed place in the next round.
Dee lost 6-0, 6-1 to Jamie Arriaga, a coach from Mexico, in the Casablanca San Ángel event in Mexico City
; Brighten was beaten 6-0, 6-0 by Jan Vacek in the Prosperita Open in Ostrava, the Czech Republic; and, this week, Lownsbrough lost 6-0, 6-0 to Olivier Patience, of France, in the San Remo Cup event.
The system means that playing in a Challenger main draw guarantees one ATP point, which can be used as leverage to enter the qualifying competition for lower-ranked tournaments that kick-starts a year’s play over again. It clearly goes against the spirit of the system that these (mis)matches are allowed — it is unfair to a sport that ought to make sure all its tournaments are bona fide, and does the players no favours.
Lownsbrough, a 20-year-old from Halifax, has not won a set in his professional career. The closest he came to the big time was playing an Italian by the name of Andrea Agazzi in a Swedish satellite event last year, when he won two games. Named among the “partners” of the San Remo Cup, listed on the tournament’s website, is LCF Sports Law Solicitors, a Bradford-based company, among whose lawyers is Stephen Lownsbrough, Adam’s father. John Hendrie, the former Bradford City striker and Barnsley manager, is listed as a Sports Law Unit consultant for the firm and also heads up JCH Management, which represents Adam.
Lownsbrough Sr said yesterday: “As a company we specialise in acting for men and women across a whole range of sports — football, tennis, cricket. We also sponsor a number of initiatives — since 1999 we have been involved in the Nottingham Open as a supporting sponsor and partner in various ways.
“We are always looking for new initiatives and, through that, we had the opportunity to sponsor various enterprises in Europe, one of which was the San Remo tournament.
“We were advised that if we had a player interested in playing, they might be prepared to provide a wild card. My son is extremely dedicated to tennis.”
As for Brighten and Dee, little is known of them except that their results do not justify the status of the events in which they have been found. In Ostrava, Brighten not only lost love and love in singles but also, in partnership with Matt Allen, another unheralded British player, was beaten 6-0, 6-1 in the first round of the doubles. Jaroslav Levinsky, one of their opponents, said that Brighten began with four successive double faults and the only point collected in the first two British service games was a misplaced smash “that hit me right on the arse”. The other seven points were double faults. “I have never played a worse pair and they were laughing all through,” he said.
The joke, though, is on a sport in which ranking and reputation are everything and need to be earned. Hundreds of players are striving to make a breakthrough who do not have the resources or the persuasive powers to be granted a helping hand. It would not be so bad if these British players, all of whom want to make a career from tennis, could make a match of their matches, but that is palpably not the case.