As Wimbledon comes around, some people love the tradition, some people hate it. One Wimbledon tradition is a question - why are the British so bad..?
Hang on, the British bad? What about Andy Murray, you may ask?
Well yes, obviously there's Murray - right at the top table in tennis, Grand Slam winner, and the man that finally laid another age old Wimbledon question to rest, which was when a British man would finally win the singles title again.
That's sort of my point.
Murray did indeed answer that question, but it's the fact that it was a question for *decades* drives home the lack of British players in contention. Take Murray away, and the next British male is ranked down at 75th, Aljaz Bedene, who has previously played for Slovenia and only became a British citizen in March 2015.
On the women's side, the top British player is Heather Watson ranked 59th, with the next Johann Konta at 126th.
Pretty woeful stats for the country that hosts Wimbledon, don't you think? So, what's the reason?
Systems and attitude, that's what I would say. Systems and attitude.
You can see countries that have many players in the top rankings for both sexes, and it's *always* felt that any Brit that reaches the dizzy heights is the exception, and gets there despite the systems and attitude, rather than because of them.
If you look the two richest women in all of sports, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, neither of them came from privileged backgrounds, and both of them worked hard from an early age, with the total lifestyle commitment from their families.
When you see the rise of the Eastern Europeans, it's put down to, yep, simple hard work. It's seen as a way out of the less affluent situations in some of those countries, a path to riches if the work is put in. So, the work is put in, and the success and riches follow.
That would suggest it's a model that could be applied in *any* country. Let's face it, commitment and hard work is a bedrock to most success isn't it?
Well yes it is, and this is where the systems and attitude in Britain become a problem when it comes to tennis.
The sports that draw in the masses in Britain are football, rugby, cricket. If you move outside those sports, particularly in schools, the resources and ambition just isn't there.
If the school buses, and coaches, are set up for the big team games, a smaller niche sport will always get pushed to back of the resources queue. Always.
Tennis is an individual sport, and in Britain it's seen as somewhere between upper middle class, and downright posh. The club structure is stifling, with rules and regulations that are designed for conformity, not for individuality. If you want to get to the top of tennis, you need a competitive spirit as fierce as any in sport, and individuality must be encouraged.
Let's look at Murray again. His coach mother took him to Spain to develop his career, when they felt they had no other option under the British system. Murray has not always been popular in the press, because after the ever-so-nice Tim Henman, who got settled in the top 5 rankings, but never won Wimbledon, Murray has a dour demeanour, and has always said he doesn't care because his focus is on his game.
Attitudes towards him have softened as he got closer to the win, and then he won Gold at the London 2012 Olympics and finally the Wimbledon title, making most grudges against him fade away. That fierce competitive nature of his is now viewed with warmth.
Did Henman's success paper over the cracks? Yes.
Does Murray's success paper over the cracks? Oh yes.
When it comes to the answer, I'm not sure there *is* an easy answer. Tennis is a niche sport in Britain. It only really grabs the national attention for one fortnight every year, and until the attitudes in schools and the attitude in the clubs and governing body change, I imagine it'll be much of the same for many years to come.
Anyone for tennis?
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