Simon Briggs “Lawn Tennis Association ask Bob Brett to give performance department a health-check”

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The Lawn Tennis Association’s misfiring performance department is to get a health-check from Bob Brett, the experienced and respected Australian coach who has worked with Boris Becker and Marin Cilic, among many others.

With the January rush of the first Grand Slam event of the year now in the past, the anticlimactic month of February follows and it’s hard to get revved up about tennis – especially this year with the Sochi Olympics all over a variety of platforms.

Brett came close to being put in charge of the whole show in 2003, before David Felgate was appointed as LTA performance director. This time, he is not planning to work directly with the players, but will spend 60 days assessing the way the machine functions. Many believe it is too narrowly focused on the £40 million National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, where the LTA’s offices are also based.

The new man running the LTA, Michael Downey, has largely kept out of the spotlight since he began his tenure six weeks ago. This is his first move of note, and by turning to Brett, 61, he has brought in a man with whom he worked closely during his nine years at Tennis Canada.

The use of outsiders – and Downey himself is a good example – short-circuits any accusations of vested interests.

The LTA runs a network of 21 high-performance centres across the country, but has often been accused of providing inadequate – and overpriced – coaching for the best British prospects. Its Talent ID system, meanwhile, is widely disliked for making judgments on players at an early age and demanding that juniors from all over the country are brought to the NTC for regular assessment.

At present, the LTA can point to only two British players in the top 100 of the singles rankings tables – Andy Murray and Laura Robson – although there is reason to believe that both Dan Evans and Heather Watson could achieve double-digit rankings by the time Wimbledon comes around.

The performance department has already seen its budget slashed from £12 million to £10 million, with the announcement in November that doubles players and singles players over the age of 24 would receive no direct financial support from the LTA. The organisation’s new focus has been on expanding grass-roots participation, but it still needs to improve its handling of the most talented prospects, and Brett is as well placed as anyone to advise.

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