Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Men with a Mission; Tim Henman Will Be Eyeing the Prize at Wimbledon This Year, but His Former Coach, David Felgate, Is Looking a Lot Further Ahead as He Tries to Re-Seed the Grass Roots of British Tennis, as Chris Jones Reports

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Men with a Mission; Tim Henman Will Be Eyeing the Prize at Wimbledon This Year, but His Former Coach, David Felgate, Is Looking a Lot Further Ahead as He Tries to Re-Seed the Grass Roots of British Tennis, as Chris Jones Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: CHRIS JONES

SHOULD Tim Henman defy the odds and his dodgy right shoulder to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936, expect to hear a huge roar of laughter among the yelps of delight inside the redbrick facade of the Lawn Tennis Association.

It's not that those who control the game find anything amusing about the prospect of watching Henman lift the famous old silver cup. Far from it, they are deadly serious about kickstarting a sport which, for decades, has spluttered along like an old banger from the Fred Perry era.

A Henman victory would be hailed as a defining moment for British tennis, but if it comes about this year the newly installed performance director, David Felgate, is not about to claim the credit - or take the rap if every single British player gets knocked out in the first round. That's where the laughter comes in.

Felgate is aware that as the man charged with the job of reinvigorating British tennis he probably has The Toughest Job in Sport.

Should Henman exceed expectations in the next fortnight, some might spot a neat connection between that success and the appointment of the man who masterminded his early career from promising junior to four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist.

But although Felgate officially now calls the shots - bad ones as well as good ones - at the LTA, he is just three months into his mission. So, quite reasonably, he says that whatever triumphs and disasters the next two weeks bring he will not take responsibility - yet.

"I am sure that with Wimbledon coming along people will expect miracles, but I haven't got a magic wand," he says. "I know it's par for the course and, to be honest, I will be laughing if what happens at Wimbledon is put down to me.

"I don't need Tim and Greg Rusedski to be successful to win over those players and coaches I am working with. The way I am perceived is not dependent on our top two players but, of course, I am delighted every time they have a good win."

Listening to Felgate, it's clear that while the public may judge the health of British tennis by what happens to Henman and, to a lesser extent, Rusedski at Wimbledon, the patient's temperature should really be taken in September when Felgate produces his blueprint for transforming the game.

For the past five years, [pounds sterling]30 million has been handed over from each Wimbledon Championship to nourish the grass roots of the British game.

Felgate must realise that the return on that [pounds sterling]150m has been terrible, an indictment of those responsible for its distribution.

The perception that British players less talented than Henman use Wimbledon as a guaranteed earner - pocketing the first-round losers' cheques and heading back to the satellite and challenger circuits - is still strong. …

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