Michael Downey believes Andy Murray is a huge asset to the British tennis industry and believes there are opportunities to use the Wimbledon champion’s brand to increase the exposure of the sport in the UK.
Speaking at the Tennis Summit, the new Lawn Tennis Association chief executive said it would be even better if Britain had multiple players ranked inside the top 100, but admitted British tennis was lucky to have a global star in Murray.
“Andy is pretty special,” Downey said. “Just about everybody in this country knows Andy Murray. Among the British population Andy comes out higher as a role model than any of the others stars. We know we are lucky we have an Andy Murray.
“The more he can win and stay in the news is great for the sport, but I do believe that our sport would be so much healthier at the elite level (and consequently impact on participation) if we had others coming up.
“We may never see another Andy Murray – it is a very tough sport to get to that level, but if we as a country had another man sitting at No.29 in the world, and another one at No.59 and they are getting to the quarter-finals and semi-finals then you are getting more news on top of Andy Murray.
“But don’t underestimate the power of Andy Murray. No doubt about it we are lucky to have him.”
Downey, who saw Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard make the breakthrough into the elite ranks of professional tennis towards the end of his time at Tennis Canada, intends to personally work with the Scot to harness what he called ‘the power of Andy Murray’.
“We are looking for ways to work with him to get his brand out there more often and it is something that I am hoping I can work personally with Andy and his agent on,” Downey said. “I think him saying great things about why people should play tennis, why he entered tennis, those kind of things are really important.
“It is great that he is in the news but what we really want him to say is things about why tennis is important to him and I think that is going to add to the participation beat as well.”
Downey, who has brought in Australian coach Bob Brett as a consultant in his first three months at the helm of British tennis, says a lack of hunger has been the stumbling block for talented British juniors breaking through onto the professional circuit.
In 2011, three British boys reached the semi-finals of the US Open boys’ competition, which Oliver Golding went on to win. Of the four semi-finalists, only the Czech, Jiri Vesely has made any real progress on the ATP Tour.
Vesely, who took Andy Murray to three sets in Indian Wells last month, broke into the world’s top 100 last July, while Kyle Edmund is just inside the world’s top 300 at No.297, with Golding at No.352 and George Morgan No.1102.
“I have brought Bob Brett in to look under the hood for 60 days and some of the things that Bob and I have talked about is that sometimes we may be giving the players too much,” Downey said. “You look at Serbia, you look at Romania and other Eastern European countries and there is just more hunger. Part of the problem that Britain has, and it is the same problem that Canada, Australia and the US has, is kids may be getting too much.
“I remember asking Judy Murray, ‘What did you do in Scotland when you were working with your two sons and Colin [Fleming] and others, and she said, well we didn’t have much. We got in the van and we drove to competitions and we bunked together.’
“I think maybe part of the problem is that we are giving too much – there has got to be this hunger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are a ton of kids in Britain who have that hunger, but do they get a false sense of security when they get to the semi-finals of the final of a junior open and that means I’m headed.”
Mike Ballardie, chief executive officer of Prince Global Sports, believes many young players have a sense of entitlement.
“We get letters from eight-year-olds who tell us they have won X Y and Z tournament and they are starting to expect to get free equipment. As an industry we are in a situation around the world where tennis players are starting to expect free equipment for very little achievement.
“The industry is trying to cut back on giving free equipment too early because to be honest it’s too expensive from our point of view and it’s a bad sign rewarding success too early.”
During Downey's time at Tennis Canada, he saw Raonic become the first Canadian man to be ranked inside the ATP top 10, while Bouchard and Filip Peliwo became the first Canadians to win a junior Grand Slam title when they won the boys' and girls' singles titles at Wimbledon in 2012. Bouchard has since gone on to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open and break into the WTA top 20.
It remains to be seen whether Downey can harness the Murray brand and help more talented British juniors make the notoriously difficult breakthrough onto the professional circuit, but his track record at Tennis Canada surely makes him the right man for the job.