NEW Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Michael Downey hopes that a collaborative approach can help Britain unearth the next Andy Murray.
Downey inherits one of the toughest jobs in British sport after years of criticism over the organisation’s failure to make the most of its annual multi-million-pound Wimbledon subsidy.
The LTA was labelled “useless” by Baroness Billingham, chair of the All Party Tennis Group, earlier this year, but Downey, Tennis Canada president for the last nine years, sees an opportunity to develop the sport at performance and participation levels.
“I wouldn’t have joined an organisation if I thought it was useless,” said Downey at his unveiling at the LTA’s national tennis centre in Roehampton, west London.
“I really do believe this is a great organisation, but great organisations can get better and need to continually get better, by looking at themselves and also being open to criticism from the outside.
“What the LTA is about is trying to engage others to help us collectively grow the sport; we’re not talking about the LTA, we’re talking about tennis in Britain.
“The mission is to help get more people playing tennis more often. A critical part of that mission is continued high-performance success for British tennis. The opportunity that Andy Murray is now a Wimbledon champion, two-times Grand Slam champion, is immense for tennis in Britain.
“Andy Murray’s biggest contribution to tennis in Britain is winning. That’s when you want to write about him, that’s when people want to follow him, that’s when kids are going to go out, pick up racquets and want to be Andy Murray. And I believe there’s a bevy of young talent that’s coming up.”
Some of Baroness Billingham’s displeasure came following the disclosure of the salary paid to Downey’s predecessor. Roger Draper leaves his £640,000-a-year, plus benefits job at the LTA at the end of this month after seven years. Downey will earn a salary of £300,000.
LTA chairman David Gregson said: “That is the right level for jobs of this magnitude.”
Downey, who hopes to meet Draper later this week, will have the opportunity, should “stringent” performance criteria be met, to earn a bonus of up to 30 per cent (£90,000), Gregson said.
A longer-term incentive will also be considered for the only person offered the role after a global search which saw over 350 applicants and nearly 30 of those interviewed for the role.
Downey fits all the criteria “perfectly”, Gregson said, adding that although there were high-quality British applicants, the LTA was merely looking for the best person for the job.
Downey is not the first Canadian import to British tennis, with Montreal-born Greg Rusedski a former British No 1. And Downey, who plans to champion mini-tennis and get children involved in the game from an early age, insists there are many parallels between British and Canadian tennis, not least the challenges of inclement weather which require indoor facilities.
He admitted that was one area where Tennis Canada has work to do – there are 120 indoor facilities, 80 per cent of those in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Montreal’s national training centre, which opened in 2007, is bearing fruit, though.
In 2012, both Wimbledon junior singles champions were Canadian – Filip Peliwo and Eugenie Bouchard – while world No 11 Milos Raonic led a team featuring Daniel Nestor to the Davis Cup semi-finals, where they lost to Serbia. Roehampton, which also opened in 2007, is yet to produce to the same level.
While there are many parallels, Downey knows the size of the task he faces. He said: “This sport has far more importance in Britain than in Canada. The expectation will be higher of myself in this position.”