‘There needs to be a bigger pool of support’: Heather Watson SLAMS LTA after a rapid Brexit from the French Open… with no British singles player making it to the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2013
- Heather Watson is furious about the lack of younger talent coming through
- No British singles players made it through to the French Open second round
- It’s the first time that’s happened at a Grand Slam since the 2013 French Open
A quarter of a billion pounds has flowed into the coffers of British tennis from Wimbledon alone in the past seven years, and yet we still get weeks like this.
The 2013 French Open was the last time no GB singles player made the second round of a Grand Slam, and you might have hoped that this kind of history would not repeat itself.
Under grey skies at Roland Garros it happened again, as a definitive Brexit was made with the departure of Heather Watson. The 28-year-old from Guernsey made it six out of six first-round losers after going down 7-6, 6-3 to France’s Fiona Ferro.
Heather Watson has slammed the LTA for cherry-picking a small handful of youngsters
She then delivered a withering critique of the situation presided over by the Lawn Tennis Association. In particular she believes that there are not enough youngsters coming through, and that the LTA have to stop cherry-picking a small handful of those with promise and spread funding more widely.
‘What younger players? I don’t have anyone to talk about,’ she said when asked about future prospects. ‘As far as the next generation goes, Jo Konta is 29, I’m 28 and Dan Evans is 30. Cam Norrie is younger at 25 but apart from that, I don’t really see who’s next or who’s going to be top 50.’
Watson was especially damning of the LTA’s academy programme, a recently reheated idea from the 80s and 90s. ‘I think personally that more players need to get help rather than just selected players,’ she said. ‘There needs to be a bigger pool of support. That way you’re not spoiled and not given everything at a young age.
No British player has made it through to the second round of the French Open this week
‘You don’t know who’s going to make it. Everybody can have their opinion. You have your talented people, but you also have your hard workers, those that are dedicated, ask all the questions. It’s not just the talented people that get through.’
There would be a reluctance on her part to step into the world of the governing body when she retires. ‘I definitely wouldn’t want to get involved because of the politics involved. If I’m honest, I don’t think my voice would be heard anyway.’
Asked if she was referring to the LTA she responded: ‘Well, LTA is British tennis, isn’t it? What else?’
It has been a strange Grand Slam season with a giant Wimbledon-shaped hole in it, and the best showing of any British man or woman was that of the largely New Zealand-raised Norrie, who made the third round in New York.
All of Britain’s top prospects are over the age of 25, and Watson is not happy with the LTA
Candidates for player of the year will be drawn instead from Wimbledon’s finance committee, who made the prescient decision to insure themselves against a pandemic. This means that the LTA will get another whopping annual handout north of £30million, although the question remains, as ever, how much use they will make of it.
Around £20m of it will go on salary costs at Roehampton if last year is anything to go by, taxpayer furlough money excepted.
Watson was especially perplexed at the failure to get more talented girls into the game: ‘It’s the best sport for female athletes. Nine of the top 10 highest paid women athletes in the world are in tennis on Forbes. I think we do have to get that message across.’
There have been a few mitigating factors in the GB performance here, one of them being the absence of Kyle Edmund and the odd tough draw such as that which befell Andy Murray.
And the cupboard is not entirely bare of those in their late teens with genuine potential, the most notable being Jack Draper and Emma Raducanu.
It’s the first time a British player hasn’t made it through at a Grand Slam since 2013
Yet it is hard to have much optimism when the game is controlled by a body such as the LTA, with its long history of blundering. Its main board, which is meant to hold executives to account, continues to suffer from a chronic lack of elite tennis expertise.
On their watch a new performance director is soon to join, Michael Bourne, whose background is in rifle shooting and cricket. He is replacing bobsleigh expert Simon Timson, who held the position for barely three years until a better offer came up to work for Manchester City.
The clay court experts of Roland Garros are unlikely to be quaking in their shoes.