French could teach the LTA how to develop talent
A familiar face was stalking the grimy corridors of the Palais Omnisports this week - Patrice Hagelauer, coach to Yannick Noah when he won the 1983 French Open. Hagelauer was hired to become the director of performance at the Lawn Tennis Association in 1998 - he departed, unfulfilled, four years later and has now been restored to lead the French Federation (FFT) in its determination to retain its foremost position in the hierarchy of world tennis.
A changing of the guard at the FFT has brought openness and experience back to a country that has never gone in for handing its heritage to those of another nation the way Britain has fumbled and fidgeted in the past twenty years, with an Australian Davis Cup captain, a French performance director (Hagelauer) and now, everywhere you turn, a Belgian in a position of technical influence.
Hagelauer had spent three years helping cement the influence of Team Lagardere, the brainchild of Arnaud Lagardere, who runs the family conglomerate which has interests in publishing, media, retail, aerospace and has a love of sport, especially tennis. A number of French players are now represented by the Lagadere group, including Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau, bolstered by a number of quality French coaches.
The FFT watched the Lagadere recruitment drive with a concern that often bordered on paranoia. Now, with Hagelauer - a man of infinite wisdom and knowledge - restored to the federation with Gilbert Ysern, as director-general of the federation and Roland Garros, a sense of calm has descended. A couple of the players who had been working at the Lagadere flagship have crossed the road, literally, to Roland Garros from Stade Jean Bouin, the Lagardere headquarters. Hagelauer emphasises, though, how vital it is for French tennis that every element flourishes.
Chatting with the Net Post, Hagelauer's mantra was plain. "Good coaching, good coaching, good coaching," he said. "It is vital we have this at every level and that one level feeds the next with a clear strategy. In the aspect of coach education we have always been strong (the LTA has had four different directors in the past four years) and those in charge of that programme are excellent people."
There are four elements to the Hagelauer philosophy - regional, national, international and coach education. At regional level, he says - "whatever we do as a nation begins in the clubs and the coaching in the clubs, in every department. This is what I was trying to develop in the UK. The imperative aspect is the junior programme, that those who are in charge of the players at 8, 9 at 12. There can be no mistakes at that age. We need the right ideas, but also we need to listen. It is about building a pathway to excellence.
"Then we have the national programme, with 14 centres of excellent across the country and we have to make sure we take care of those with better management systems. Everybody needs to work together. At the international level there are currently 32 players - double last year's number - who are working at Roland Garros. We have seven players in the top 100, 11 in the top 200 and many other junior players working through the rankings (Note to the LTA: we are only talking singles players here, doubles does not figure). It is important that players like Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra, those with great experience, can mix with the younger ones, because they act as points of reference."
Out of the blue, Hagelauer nominated 30-year-old Arnaud Di Pasquale to become the head of the men's section, with Alexia Dechaume-Balleret, taking on similar responsibilities for the women. "These are people with proven playing track records from the juniors to significant world rankings. With Arnaud, he is going to be responsible for supporting almost 20 players, but he knows them by heart and they know him, there is trust."
From the moment Hagelauer was appointed and said that those working for him are, for the present, going to 'be French and only French', the lines from so many former players were humming. "Yannick 9Noah) told me that I only had to ring him and he would be there. The same is true of Amelie Mauresmo. Everyone wants to be a part of what we are doing. I am so very pleased with that."
And so, unlike the situation in Britain, where many former players with proven coaching track records feel they have no part to play in the sport under its current ownership, where to have been attached to the past is to be treated as a relic, dismissed as an interference rather than someone who might be able to help. It is very sad. And very wrong.
SW19 still the LTA's crown jewel
The All England Club and the LTA were quick off the mark in raising their objections to the recommendations of David Davies' review into events that should be protected for live broadcast on free-to-air television. Their response to the recommendation that the whole Wimbledon championships should be protected would - "severely compromise the Club’s ability to negotiate its TV rights in an open competitive market place".
Suggesting that grass roots funding would be damaged, the club said that all the profits from Wimbledon are given to the LTA to reinvest in the development of infrastructure and British tennis players. They argued that "any artificial curtailing of the competitiveness of the TV rights’ marketplace caused by listing the entire Championships is bound to mean less money will be available for the LTA to invest in grass roots tennis and the players of the future."
The Davies report had been based - they said - on "erroneous information" and that "in virtually its only reference to Wimbledon, it quotes Frontier Economics which says 'although broadcast revenues are a significant source of revenue for Wimbledon, much of these accrue from overseas broadcasters unaffected by the UK’s listing policy. Any changes to the proceeds from the sale of UK broadcasting rights (arising from a change in the listed status of the event) may therefore have only a limited impact on the LTA’s funding of UK tennis programmes’. This is completely wrong. UK broadcast rights do form the major share of Wimbledon’s broadcast income. Therefore any change in listing which limits the competitiveness of the UK market-place will definitely have a material effect on the LTA’s income."
Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Club, said: "Wimbledon has been extremely successful and it seems strange at this time to alter a model that works for viewers, the public and funding of tennis. We value our relationship with the BBC but the market place needs to be balanced. The proposed change is based on entirely erroneous information and will seriously damage our ability to obtain the best deal for The Championships and for British tennis. Listing the whole event is not in the interests of Wimbledon or tennis fans and we will be vigorous in presenting our case during the consultation period.”
In his enduringly excellent column in the Mail on Sunday, Patrick Collins wrote at the weekend. "Cricket will serve as the battleground for this argument, since it is here that the problem is most sharply defined. True, there was a small squeak from Roger Draper, the chief executive of the LTA, who complained that listing Wimbledon would have a 'negative impact' on their ability to 'develop British talent'. The LTA receive about £30m a year, every year, to do just that. Suffice to say 2010 will be the 74th anniversary of Fred Perry’s singles victory at Wimbledon."
It would perhaps concentrate the specificity of the argument if, at their annual general meeting next month, the LTA gave a transparent breakdown of how the money they receive from Wimbledon (£29.2m this year) is spent, on whom and on what. Could we know, for instance, the wages and bonuses paid to the executive and the Tennis Leadership Team? Then, maybe, we can enter a serious debate and strike a balance between what is invested in the grass roots (which got everyone hot under the collar when Davies' recommendations became public) and on the performance side of the game where the sport has failed for decades to deliver on targets and promises.
Murray attracts praise in defeat
Jean-Francois Caujolle, tournament director of the BNP Paribas Masters, singled out Andy Murray for special praise at his end-of-event review and disclosed that next year there could be a dramatic change to the format in Paris. There is a powerful case, Caujolle believes, for the tournament to become a 32 rather than 48 man draw - "for it is quite normal that the draws become progressively smaller in order to arrive towards the Masters where there are only eight players."
He said Murray had been a victim of the current numbers and the consequent pressure it places on scheduling with only one court at the Palais Omnisport of a standard required for an event of this prestige. "[Murray] ended one match on Wednesday at 1.45am and there had been a real problem with the scheduling that day because we had six matches to play on he Centre Court," Caujolle said. The problem had been exacerbated by Marat Safin's three set loss to Juan Martin Del Potro, after which there was an extended retirement celebration for the Russian that put another spanner in the works.
"The next day Murray had to play on Court No 1 (against Radek Stepanek) and sincerely I believe he would not have lost that match if it had been on the Centre. He was a victim of those problems we have with a tournament with 48 players. He was extremely decent and said nothing about it. He just said the other player was better than him."
Caujolle revealed that his plans for a reduction in draw size would be put to the ATP Board next week. He also declared that an ATP 250 tournament would be scheduled in the same week as Paris next year - "so we are not only guaranteeing the existing jobs of the players but creating new ones," he said. "I trust it will be possible."
Murray made a point of mentioning in the press conference after his defeat to Stepanek that he had heard there would be 200 journalists attending the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena. That is a pretty formidable level of media interest but the Net Post hears that not one of those writers is coming from the United States; whether Andy Roddick comes or not. It is quite some dark moment in tennis-writing history that not a single member from America will make the trip, and this from the richest nation in the tennis world. Truly terrible news.
Rafa in the swing of things
It is not easy to get the subject away from golf when you bump into Rafael Nadal and it was the same this week. He has only ever played once on a British course and would like to have a far wider experience of our courses. That, and the Net Post learns he is a great admirer of Ross Fisher, the English professional who was deep in contention for the Open Championship at Turnberry this year until he came to grief with a quadruple bogey eight on the 5th hole of his final round. "I had a great sensation and sensitivity for what happened to Fisher," Nadal said. "He is one of my favourite players."
Taylor makes a Dent on return to top 100
We could not be more delighted to report that, with his 6-3, 7-6 victory over Ilja Bozoljac of Serbia in the final of the ATP Challenger in Knoxville, Tennessee, American Taylor Dent is back in the world's top 100 almost four years after it was feared that a terrible back injury would rob him of his career altogether. It has been a long, often painful progress but Dent is making the most of his second chance and everyone in the sport is grateful for that. In conversation with Phil Brook, Wimbledon's chairman-to-be, many moons ago, the Net Post suggested Dent would win a grand slam one day. He may yet give me a run for my optimism.
Isn't the spanish model way much more successful? (Slams, Masters, Olympics, DC, number of top players, etc)
and I'm not just talking about right now, but the last 20 years or so