ALL the money in the world cannot buy a grand slam title, as Andy Murray knows only too well. It took him 25 years of working, battling and waiting to claim his first major trophy and, by the time he achieved his goal, he was already rich enough that he never need work again.
So, as the monumentally wealthy Lawn Tennis Association begins its search for a new chief executive to replace Roger Draper, who will stand down in September, the Scot has no time for politics and personality clashes, for five-year programmes and blueprints for success – he just wants the powers that be in British tennis to pull together. It is the only way Britain will stand a chance of producing another champion.
Murray knows from his own experiences and those of his mother, Judy, what it takes to succeed and what is required to identify young talents and set them on the road to the top. Looking around at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells – he reached the quarter-finals on Wednesday night with a 7-6, 6-4 win over Carlos Berlocq – he saw his brother, Jamie, and Colin Fleming playing alongside him. The three men were all helped, coached and encouraged by Judy and yet, for all her knowledge and skill, the rest of British tennis seems unwilling to follow her example.
Although, for the record, he was certain that Judy would not be stepping into Draper’s shoes.
“She won’t be doing that job,” he said with a knowing smile. “Her No 1 strength is working with kids. And we’ve developed decent players. We’ve got three players here in Indian Wells: My brother, Colin and myself were all from one tiny little area in Scotland. She knows what it takes to set up a programme that’s going to work for young kids so I think that’s where her input would be most valuable. It’s a pretty big role she still has anyway with the Fed Cup.”
The main problem, as Murray sees it, is that so many of the sport’s leading lights are more concerned with their own little fiefdoms than they are with getting to grips with the problems that tennis faces in Britain. The LTA rakes in around £30 million a year from Wimbledon alone and generates another £9m a year from its own business ventures. Money is not the issue – it is the egos and personalities that cause the trouble.
“There’s a lot of great people in British tennis and none of them see eye to eye,” Murray said wearily. “None of them speak to each other. I think if everyone got in a room and actually was mature about it and gave their opinions and put them across, I think they could come up with pretty good solutions. I think it’s fine to go elsewhere for certain things, for certain expertise, but the people who genuinely care about the game in the UK are going to be British, so I think it’s important to make sure that you get all of those people – guys who have been at the top of the game, coaches who have produced players, try to get them involved, get that passion back.
“And from their side – because I’ve seen it and I’ve read about it – just stop the negativity and, like, do something constructive with your ideas instead of just panning the LTA. It doesn’t really work.”
Ever since he came back from his two years in Barcelona, Murray has heaped praise on the Spanish system. Everything he witnessed there seems to be better, from the facilities to the training to the weather. He does not profess to have the answer to the many problems in British tennis, but, after seeing a different system from the inside, he is more than willing to help the LTA should the opportunity arise. He does know a thing or two about getting to the top in his sport, after all.
“The only stuff I know about from growing up was, I know I never played tennis at school, so I always had to leave school to play tennis,” he said. “I know that when I went over to Spain, it was so much easier to play and that the club structure they have there is fantastic, especially in Barcelona – I don’t think that’s the case in all of Spain, but in Barcelona in particular.
“And then, obviously, I know the standards and levels that you need to train at to get to the top of the game and to break through from the juniors through to the seniors. I don’t know enough about the other stuff, the grass roots tennis and how you go about changing that and setting all of that up, but there are certain things that I would have a decent idea on that I could maybe help with.”
He has a fair idea of how to cope with today’s assignment, too: finding a way to beat Juan Martin Del Potro. He has beaten the Argentine five times out of six in the past but, so far this week, Murray has not been playing particularly well. He needs to move up a gear or two to beat the 6ft 6ins world No 7.
“A lot of it depends on how you play on the day,” Murray said. “I think my game against the bigger guys has worked well: using a lot of variety and be able to put the ball in awkward positions for them, but if I don’t play well, or use that style well on the day, then I’m not going to win.”
If only fixing British tennis were as simple as that.