Australian tennis greats were lining up yesterday to offer their verdicts on Australian tennis’s worst result at Wimbledon for 74 years. All four Australian men went crashing out, including former champion Lleyton Hewitt, while Bernard Tomic, who reached the quarter-finals last year as an 18-year-old qualifier, lost to Belgian wild card David Goffin.
It was a dismal result for Australian tennis, which stands second only to the US in Davis Cup victories and whose players claimed 10 mens singles titles between in a 12 year span between 1960 and 1971.
When interviewed, former players all cited coaching as a major issue in Australian tennis’s failing fortunes.Tennis legend Margaret Court, a 24-time grand slam champion, said Tennis Australia put too much stock in placing talented juniors in large squads and was dulling its brightest prospects by making coaching less personal.
“I think they’re taking them too early,” Court said.
“You throw children, little kids at 13 into a squad, I believe that’s where you lose them. They take them off (their coaches) so early and you never see them again.
“If I look at my coaches, they sewed their life into me.
“You wonder why the people don’t stay in the game so long, it becomes like from such an early age they’re so focused, they’re like robots.”
Two time Wimbledon doubles champion, Tony McNamee agreed.
McNamee said he believed Tennis Australia’s whole philosophy of coaching was wrong and was resulting in the sort of disappointing results being seen at Wimbledon.
“They (Tennis Australia) have got an A-Z policy where they like to take complete control of athletes (and their coaching), and that’s not the way our champions were made,” he said.
McNamee cited the likes of Rod Laver, the winner of 11 grand slam titles, including the Grand Slam itself – all four major championships in a calendar year – on two occasions, who was coached for much of his career by Charlie Hollis.
“(But) Matt Ebden, who lost today, I’ve seen him with three different coaches already this year,” McNamee said.
“…we need to have mentors one-on-one with the players and try to bring them through the transition from juniors to seniors.”
Others were more sanguine. Doubles legend Todd Woodbridge argued that Tennis Australia was doing good work but that improvement takes time.
“I’d have loved to have four guys win in the first round, but it just didn’t happen,” Woodbridge said.
“But I have to reiterate, that a year ago (at Wimbledon) we had the best tournament that we’ve had (in some time).”
As one might expect, Lleyton hewitt’s defeat was not due to lack of effort, but his frenetic hustling style, itself tempered by age and injury, was no match for the younger Frenchman, Tsonga’s powerful groundstrokes easing him to a straight sets victory.
Hewitt himself was philosophical, “I didn’t do a lot wrong, really, probably as good as I could have done today, really.”
Hewitt also aid tough draws were partly to blame for the Australian shutout.
“The three guys that played today, I know we could have beat a lot of guys that are still going in the tournament,” he said. “That’s just how it falls.”
So where does Australian tennis go from here? Tennis Australia director, Craig Tiley is adenough to recognise that in an era of unprecedented global interest in tennis, Australia will never again exert the same disproportionate influence at Wimbledon.
With the grass court season being reduced from three months to five weeks in recent years and the decline of grass courts in Australia because of their high maintenance costs, Tiley admits the dominance Australia once had on the grass will never happen again.