Sunday, 8 March 2009

Show Me The Money...

It's not often I write about British Tennis. On the men's side, outside of Murray, there's not much to get enthralled about frankly and that's being kind. I'll spare you the details of the carnage this weekend.

Imagine if you will, the gulf between Federer playing like he was at say, the beginning of 2007 and the best performing Futures Circuit Player, and you'll have some idea of the gaping chasm separating Murray from the rest of the Brits.

There have been a lot of initiatives to improve this state of affairs ever since Roger Draper took charge at the LTA in 2006. Even before it became clear that Murray would be unable to play this weekends Davis Cup tie, Team Captain John Lloyd had the other players take part in a play off of sorts to decide who takes the other singles spot, instead of simply handing them out.

I'm all for players 'earning their place' in this way; it'd be different if we had even one other player in the top 100, but as it stands no one merits being selected based on form - show me the money, I say.

This summary by Jonathan Overend at the BBC explains some of the improvement initiatives underway, and makes a good point re some of the players' earnings.

Take for example the more accountable approach to funding:

The latest plan is to put all the professional players on contracts to introduce more accountability and more accurately assess their progress, or lack of it. Thirty-six players have been given places on "Team AEGON" and the one-year contracts set out the expectations, tailored specifically to the individual players.

Ranking targets are evaluated every six months and physical fitness targets are assessed every three months. Some contracts require players to up their first-serve percentage while others demand greater endurance in matches. They really are that specific.

In return, the player receives funding - of up to £48,000 in some cases - to pay for coaches and travel expenses. If targets are not met, players can expect their funding to be cut or - in extreme cases - withdrawn completely.

"We are there for the players," said Steven Martens, LTA player director, "but we are not a social security system."

All well and good, but get this:

Certain British players, with rankings possibly outside the world's top 200, can expect central funding of more than £20,000 - £6,000 appearance fee for Davis Cup ties (possibly two a year), an extra £10,000 if they get a Wimbledon wild card (even for a first-round defeat), and another couple of grand for wild cards into other grass-court tournaments.

That's approaching £50,000 even before you start adding prize money from the other tournaments and outside sponsorship.

Obviously there are sizeable expenses to deduct, life as a tennis pro is a costly business, but does such generosity encourage the necessary toughness to grind out wins when the going gets tough?

British players have everything they could wish for - a wonderful practice facility in Roehampton, access to some reputable coaches, a state-of-the-art medical and fitness department, and a fat cheque from the governing body.

Perhaps one day someone will take the radical step of scrapping the support and send players out on their own with nothing but an air ticket. Would that produce the "warriors" Draper wants to create?

Indeed. Since when does a ranking outside of the top 200 merit funding approaching £50K? And more importantly how do you expect to foster Champions with this molly-coddling?
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