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THE TIMES - 10/01/2005

FELGATE SETS HIS SIGHTS ON GENUINE CHALLENGE

January 10, 2005

Felgate sets his sights on genuine challenge for 2010 The young players being primed to take over mantle of Henman and Ruseski

It is forecast to touch 27C in Melbourne on Wednesday, when Tim Henman begins his 2005 campaign; even higher in Sydney, where Greg Rusedski is eager to pick up where he left off, giving Roger Federer a run for his money in the Gulf last week, only to bump straight into soaring Joachim Johansson, of Sweden, who won the Adelaide hard-court title yesterday.
At the South Leeds Tennis Centre — if it is still upright after the weekend gales — starts today a more prosaic occasion of no less significance for the long-term health of the British game. For, at the heart of what it hopes is a swelling in the rankings of its mid-stream players, the LTA stages the first of 31 weeks of men’s satellite tournaments, by far the most staged in Britain in a calendar year. Halfway through the initial clutch of six events — there is also an ATP Challenger in Wrexham next week for good measure — Jeremy Bates, the Davis Cup captain, will name his team for the Euro African zonal tie against Israel in Tel Aviv in the first week of March.

As yet, there has been no indication from Henman or Rusedski that they remain anything less than 100 per cent committed to the competition. How long the leading pair should bear the brunt is a moot point, leaving Bates to seek as many alternatives as he can, especially as it is the desire of David Felgate, the LTA’s director of performance, for Great Britain to challenge for both the Davis Cup and the women’s Fed Cup by 2010.

Can it be achieved? Undoubtedly there has been a strengthening in depth and an awakening of team spirit across the boundaries of national training. As the new campaign beckons, Britain has nine men in the top 300 (as opposed to five at this time last year) and the top ten women have improved their rankings by an average of more than 230 places in the past two years. There are five in the top 300 on the Sony Ericsson WTA rankings and if one becomes a top 100 player by the end of 2005, Felgate will be a (relatively) happy man.

Of the men on the rise, none moved more remarkably than Josh Goodall, the 19-year-old from Basingstoke, who did not have a ranking point to his name in March and finished the year at No 344, a near record-breaking flight up the league table.

Not bad for someone who, in his early teenage years, suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and, in the autumn of 2003, was defaulted from a tournament in Glasgow when he threw his racket, striking a lineswoman just over the eye. “Since I’ve joined the LTA squad, I’ve learnt to be much more professional,” he said. “I hope those wild days are over.”

The talents of Andrew Murray have been well chronicled. The world No 411 leaves for South America next week for a series of tournaments on clay that will form the base for what could be a massive year.

Miles Kasiri, the Wimbledon boys’ runner-up, is chomping at the bit, according to Colin Beecher, his coach, and much is expected of David Rice, from Hertfordshire, who will be 20 in 2010.

This is a crucial year for a number of players. Of those trying to qualify for the Australian Open, where Bates will be an intrigued spectator, Alex Bogdanovic needs to mature quickly to establish himself as a prospect, Arvind Parmar has probably had his chance, Jamie Delgado’s days have gone, Jonny Marray needs to show that he can shine on surfaces other than grass, and is the one tie he played in Australia two years ago all that Alan Mackin has in his locker? Two British women, Elena Baltacha, ranked No 185, and Amanda Janes, daughter of Christine and No 214, are also in the qualifying event.

There are hopes that, in time, Katie O’Brien, Melanie South, Hannah Grady and Claire Peterzan can form a Fed Cup team that propels Britain to prominence in the championship.



by NEIL HARMAN



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