Britain's shameful Davis Cup defeat by Lithuania could easily have been avoided had world No 3 Andy Murray played in Vilnius rather than be excused from international duty by the Lawn Tennis Association’s own management.
And yesterday John Lloyd, who relinquished his job as Great Britain captain in the aftermath of that humiliating setback, said: ‘Call me old-fashioned, but when is it a convenience, and not a privilege, to play for your country?’
Convenience or privilege: Murray chose not to play for his country
Lloyd is in no doubt as to the scale of the debacle when British tennis, funded by the £25million raised every year at Wimbledon, proved incapable of finding four men able to win a tie against a nation bereft of money, players and history.
‘It will be a blemish on my career in tennis to end my time with the Davis Cup team in this manner,’ said Lloyd, after a disingenuous investigation into the health of British tennis was ordered by the LTA.
But many will feel that allowing Murray’s absence from the tie was unforgivable. Lloyd insists he is not bitter over the LTA’s decision, only perplexed at how the Davis Cup, a once-great competition that offered players a unique opportunity to play for their country rather than themselves, has become so devalued by official approval.
Lloyd said: ‘I know Roger Federer, and other top players, pick and choose when to play in the Davis Cup. But does that make it right?
Great Britain Coach John Lloyd
Painful viewing: Lloyd during Great Britain's defeat to Lithuania
‘If England’s football team had failed to qualify for the World Cup, would it be OK for Wayne Rooney to turn round and say that he didn’t think he’d bother playing for the
international team until they had some proper matches, or a team worthy of his time? Of course not.
‘When did it come about that someone only played for their country when they had a good team? Yet the public seem to have accepted Andy should be playing only when
the team are in the upper echelons of the competition.
'The reality is that the only way for Britain to get back to the World Group of the Davis Cup is with him in the team.
'With Andy pretty much assured of winning two matches against any other country, out of the five rubbers played over a Davis Cup tie, it’s possible, of course, to get back to the top. The question is: how much do we want that to happen?’
The decision to excuse Britain’s best tennis player from Davis Cup duty has thrown a critical spotlight on the LTA regime of chief executive, Roger Draper.
In January, Murray had said: ‘I am happy to step aside for this match (against Lithuania) and will take decisions on (playing in) future ties with the LTA.’
Sitting in his office at the £40m National Tennis Centre, Draper could be imagined nodding in silent approval.
After all, only Murray’s success in the grand theatres of tennis, in Wimbledon, New York, Paris and Melbourne, can mask the overall failure of Draper’s four years in charge of a moribund organisation over-populated with foreign coaches and scientists and under-populated by players anywhere near breaking into the men’s top 100 in the world.
Lloyd, who appeared for Britain when Paul Hutchins captained the team in the 1978 Davis Cup final, believes the rich history of the competition is second only in stature to the Grand Slam championships.
‘Winning a tournament in Rhode Island or Hamburg may provide a player with a good pay cheque but no one is going to remember him for that,’ said Lloyd.
Britain's captain John Lloyd
Harsh words: Lloyd says he is perplexed at how the Davis Cup has become devalued
‘Ask John McEnroe or Bjorn Borg if they care more about their records in the Grand Slams and Davis Cup above all else and they’ll answer in one word, “Yes”.’
Last autumn, Murray played through pain caused by an injury to his wrist but Britain still lost at home against Poland as the Poles boasted a world-class doubles team.
As a consequence, Murray was sidelined for several weeks and the LTA arrived at an agreement with the British No 1 to miss the match in Lithuania.
But, from a 2-1 lead in Vilnius, James Ward and Dan Evans — both ranked outside the world’s top 200 — could not handle the burden of the final two singles rubbers
and Lithuania exposed the soft underbelly of British tennis.
So what now will change? Murray has an uneasy relationship with Greg Rusedski, perhaps threatening his desire to succeed Lloyd. Two other LTA coaches, Leon Smith, mentor to Murray in his teenage years, and Colin Beecher, could come into consideration.
In any event, Draper is unlikely to insist on Murray, who will defend his Masters title in Florida this week after losing 6-1, 7-6 (7-4) to Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals in
Andy Murray of Great Britain
Risky business: Murray further damaged his wrist against Poland last autumn
Indian Wells, making a commitment to the Davis Cup, even though the LTA met the £750,000 annual salary required to hire Brad Gilbert to coach him towards the summit of the game.
For Lloyd, 55, the matter is now academic. ‘After the loss to Poland, I talked
of rebuilding the team,’ he said.
‘In Lithuania, we came close to winning before Dan Evans lost a five-setter in the final match. I’m sure whoever takes over as captain will put out a team good enough to beat Turkey in the week after Wimbledon and keep Britain at least in the Europe/Africa Group Two.
‘I never had responsibility for finding or coaching the players that I selected from. I saw them for only four days before the tie and it was my job to prepare them professionally
and to create a strong team spirit. I believe I did that,’ he added.
‘Some criticised me for continuing to live in Los Angeles but if you have a contract for just 12 weeks a year, it doesn’t matter if you live in Tipton or Tijuana. Perhaps, lessons can be learned from the success Nigel Sears has had with the British women, as he is with them for 30 or more weeks a year.
Frankly, it is disappointing after all these years that the system still hasn’t produced any men ranked inside the top 100.’
Last week, LTA player director Steve Martens was asked by Draper to review Britain’s performance in Lithuania. After Lloyd accepted his fate, leaving his role on his terms on Wednesday night, Martens said: ‘My initial findings recognised he is not to blame for the current lack of depth in the men’s game, so I am widening my review to look across men’s tennis.’
If he was to be taken seriously, his searchlight would not need to travel beyond the executive offices at the National Tennis Centre.
Didn't Lloyd give Murray his blessing to miss the tie?