STUART FRASER

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TALKING BALLS 023 Ė THURSDAY 11TH MARCH 2010
By Stuart Fraser

Davis Cup disaster

First of all, an apology for the delay in writing this weekís Talking Balls, but it was intended.  Rather than write this 24 hours after a humiliating defeat for Great Britain by Lithuania in the Davis Cup, I thought it would be better to sit and take stock of all the different opinions that have been expressed in the last few days.

Personally I wasnít at all surprised by the result at the weekend.  Research over the past few weeks had given the impression that this tie was destined for a decisive fifth rubber and that proved to be the case.

And when it comes down to the wire in Davis Cup, anything can happen.  Form and rankings go out of the window.  19-year-old Dan Evans came up against an inspired 18-year-old in Laurynas Grigelis who, despite being ranked 269 places below the Brit, was desperate to clinch a famous victory for his country on home soil.

You really canít put any blame on the British players for lack of effort.  James Ward became the first British player in 13 years other than Tim Henman, Andy Murray or Greg Rusedski to win a live singles rubber, and Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski claimed Britainís first Davis Cup doubles victory since Henman and Jamie Murray in 2007.

Yes, Evans may have lost both his singles rubbers but the Brit pushed his opponents all the way in five set encounters, and it was a marked improvement from his tame straight-sets defeats in the two matches he played against Poland last year.

Captain John Lloyd has taken a lot of criticism over the past few days and personally I feel a lot of it is unjustified.  Lloyd can only work with the players at his disposal and itís not his fault that British menís tennis lacks any real depth.

I do agree though that, in comparison to other captains, Lloyd appears to lack the motivational skills that could inspire a player like Grigelis, for example, to victory against a higher-ranked opponent.  He never seems too comfortable sitting in the chair next to his players during the changeovers.

And whilst I donít blame Lloyd for the run of five successive Davis Cup defeats, I do feel that the British team may benefit from a fresh approach through a change of captaincy.  Lloyd has tried his best but itís time to give someone else a shot.

So it begs the question on who is to blame for the state that our menís team finds itself in.  I may not have been surprised by the result last weekend, but that doesnít mean I donít think that something in British tennis needs sorting.

A country with an annual budget of around £40m should not be defeated by a country whose budget is £90,000.  Do the maths and you will find out that the Lithuanian Federationís annual budget wouldnít even cover one dayís worth of the LTAís.

OK, shock one-off results can happen.  But we have been suffering from poor results like these for years.  In our last three matches, we have been defeated by Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine.  All countries with nowhere near the amount of money that we have to spend on tennis.

For me, the situation our Davis Cup team finds itself in now is the result of years of mismanagement within the LTA.  And when I say years, I donít just mean the past few.  Iím talking about decades.

Iím not so sure that, in the four years that he has held the post, LTA Chief Executive Roger Draper can have done too much to help our Davis Cup team.  The changes he has implemented, if they are to work, will take years to bear fruit.

But there are many involved in tennis who feel that the situation is not going to get any better in the future under Draper.  Some feel that a huge amount of money has been wasted since he took over in 2006.

Having read dozens of articles over the past few days on the subject, I thought I would pick out five which I feel are well worth a read for any British tennis fan:

David Lloyd on BBC Sport Ė The former Davis Cup captain calls on Draper to quit over the lack of home-grown male talent.  Contains a six minute video interview where Lloyd has some strong words to say on the system.

Mike Dickson in the Daily Mail Ė The tennis writer reveals that Miles Maclagan has emerged as a possible replacement for Lloyd.  Pay particular attention to the box on the page showing the estimated salaries for the LTA bosses.

Neil Harman in The Times Ė The tennis correspondent says what he would do in seven steps to turn the sport around in this country.  Some interesting points, particularly the funding of independent centres across the country.

Jamie Baker in the Daily Telegraph Ė The British No.5 makes a plea for faith and patience with the LTA.  He doesnít think that the Davis Cup is an accurate reflection of the state of British Tennis.

Mark Petchey in the Daily Telegraph Ė Andy Murrayís former coach does not hold back in this hard-hitting reply to Jamie Bakerís piece.  Petchey feels that no one should listen to a player who has little credibility in terms of world tennis.

Although Petchey is harsh towards Baker who has been one of the unluckiest injury-hit players in this country, I feel he was spot on with many of the points he made about the system in this country.  He ends the piece with a plea for Draper to debate the state of the game with him.

The political debates between the three main party leaders may be coming up, but if Draper and Petchey go head to head, I know which debate I would rather watch.

First Masters 1000 of the year

Really looking forward to the first Masters 1000 tournament of 2010 in Indian Wells over the next week and a half.

In terms of a winner, itís looking pretty open.  Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both return from injury, Novak Djokovic comes into this on the back of an impressive win in Dubai and you can never count out Murray when itís a Masters on hard court.

In fact, looking at the rest of the top ten players competing this week is making it even more difficult to pick a winner.  Nikolay Davydenko is always capable of doing damage at the hard court Masters, Robin Soderling won in Rotterdam last month, all Marin Cilicís five titles have been on hard and Andy Roddick could produce something special on home soil.

Itís great to see the tournament awarding a wild card to veteran Carlos Moya.  The Spaniard has played four tournaments so far this year after returning from a long injury lay-off following surgery on his toe.

The former world No.1 now sits at a ranking of No.639 and plays qualifier Tim Smyczek, of America, in the first round.  Should be a test for Moya as Smyczek has been in impressive form so far this week, having only dropped a total of three games in his two qualifying matches.

Another notable benefactor of a wild card is David Nalbandian, fresh from clinching a win for Argentina in the decisive rubber of their Davis Cup tie against Sweden last week.

Like Moya, Nalbandian has also only recently returned from injury and in fact, wasnít expected to play Davis Cup last weekend.  However, two days before the tie, he phoned captain Tito Vazquez to say that he was available for doubles if needed, and the former Wimbledon finalist turned out to be a hero winning both the doubles and singles matches that he played in.

Nalbandian has been drawn against qualifier Stefan Koubek and is in Federerís quarter of the draw.  It would actually be great to see Federer and Nalbandian play each other in the quarter-finals but I suspect it is a bit too soon for the Argentine to reach the latter stages of the tournament.

The event is one of the few on the tour nowadays that also has the women playing at the same time.  17 of the worldís top 20 are competing in an event that, like the menís, should be very closely contested.

Missing this week are Dinara Safina through injury and Serena and Venus Williams who are continuing with their boycott of Indian Wells after claiming to have been subjected to racial taunts and comments from the crowd in 2001 after Venus had withdrawn from a semi-final against Serena due to injury.

British interest in the womenís draw lies with Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha.  Keothavong sadly suffered a three-set defeat to former World No.5 Anna Chakvetadze in her first round match last night but itís a different story for Baltacha who has been in great form so far this week.

The Scot just missed out on direct entry to the main draw so had to come through two qualifying matches to earn a first round tie against American wild card Alexa Glatch, and Baltacha continued her winning ways with a tight three-set victory last night.

Baltacha has had some great results so far this year and hopefully she can keep the momentum going into a tough second-round match against Australian Open semi-finalist Li Na.

Things are set up nicely for an excellent week and a half in Indian Wells.  UK fans can watch live TV coverage of the menís draw on Sky Sports and British Eurosport will be covering the women.

Another injury for Haas

Sad to hear of another lengthy injury lay-off for the former world No.2 Tommy Haas.  The German has been forced to have surgery on his hip which means he is out for a few months.

Haas has been extremely unlucky throughout his career.  He has suffered from several injuries, including two broken ankles and three shoulder operations, and also took time out of the game to look after his parents after they were involved in a serious car accident.

Fingers crossed that Haasí recovery goes well.  He is always entertaining to watch on court and hopefully he will recover in time to return to Wimbledon, where he did so well in reaching the semi-finals last year.

Try overgrip

Whilst watching the stream of the Davis Cup match between Britain and Lithuania on the LTA website, I noticed Liam Nolan on the British team bench.

For those of you wondering who Liam is, he was the teamís stringer who did me a huge favour at the Futures in Glasgow earlier this year, and introduced me to something which will save me a good few quid as a club player.

The grips on my rackets were knackered to put it nicely, so I asked Liam, who was stringing for the pros at Scotstoun, if he had any spare grips that I could buy.  It was then that he introduced me to overgrip which is wrapped around the original grip to preserve it.

Within fifteen minutes, he had put this round my two rackets and only charged me £2.  For someone who is used to paying £8 a pop for a new grip at my local club, I was delighted to say the least.

Overgrip is easily available on the internet so if you haven't done so already, give it a try folks.  It will save you a fortune!