LTA chief shies away from setting rankings target

By John SinnottBBC Sport

Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Roger Draper has refused to predict how many British players will be ranked in the world top 100 in five years.

Although there are three British women ranked in the top 100, Andy Murray is the only Briton in the men's top 100.

"We're not making predictions. We don't want to heap pressure on [youngsters'] shoulders," Draper told BBC Sport.

But he said efforts to develop talent, given LTA investment of over £250m, were "over the years, not acceptable".

Draper believes the recent success of Oliver Golding, Liam Broady and George Morgan in junior events, as well as Heather Watson and Laura Robson who have also broken through on the senior tour, promises better times ahead for Britain's tennis fans.

But he believes it will take another five years to rectify the problems facing British tennis.

"We've got a really talented group of players and they have been doing well in the junior grand slams, but we know it's a long transition - four to six years for the boys, though it's a lot of quicker for the girls," Draper said.

"The boys are well placed - ranking between 600 and 700 in the seniors - and that crop will do well."

Broady and his sister Naomi recently turned down the LTA's offer of funding, with the family still at odds with the organisation over its decision to block the latter's funding over her "unprofessional behaviour" and a "lack of discipline" after seeing photos of her on the social networking website Bebo in 2007.

"We offered them funding contracts, but Team Broady declined that," said Draper, speaking after the LTA's annual general meeting.

"They have had a brilliant year with Liam going to the final of junior Wimbledon and Naomi breaking into the top 200.

"Hopefully we can resolve that situation. Time is a good healer and life is too short to be having spats and we want everybody to part of British Tennis going forward."

The Broady family's decision to keep the LTA at arm's length is a bold one, given Draper has estimated it costs £250,000 to produce a Wimbledon champion, with parents of 10-year-olds having to spend as much as £10,000 if their children are competing at a high level.

Despite those prohibitive costs and the squeeze on living standards due to the economic climate, Draper insisted tennis was not solely the preserve of Britain's middle class.

"Tennis reaches out to a huge part of the community," said Draper, who has now been in charge of the LTA for five years.

"Funding performance tennis is an issue. It is an expensive sport and that is why we are reliant on sponsors, local sponsorship schemes and on parents.

"Tennis is not an expensive sport to take up but, for those talented few, the journey is a lot harder. We fund over 400 Aegon future stars - they are well looked after - but it will continue to be a challenge as it is for other nations."