Heather Watson pulled no punches when assessing the state of British tennis after her first-round exit at the French Open.
Watson, the world No. 56 from Guernsey, was beaten in straight sets by France’s Fiona Ferro on Tuesday – a defeat that confirmed there would be no Brits in the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2013.
Andy Murray, Johanna Konta, Dan Evans, Cameron Norrie and qualifier Liam Broady had already been knocked out in what was a painful tournament for the British contingent.
Focus has turned to the state of British tennis and Watson gave a frank assessment of the underlying problems facing the sport in this country.
‘For me, as far as like the next generation goes, Jo is 29, I’m 28, Evo is 30, Norrie is young. Apart from that, I don’t really see who’s next,’ Watson said after her 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 defeat. ‘I don’t see who’s going to be top-50.
‘I think personally that more players need to get help rather than just helping your selected players, I don’t know how many there are, but a handful of players. I feel like there needs to be a bigger pool of support.
Ferro 7-6 6-4 Watson
Wawrinka 6-1 6-3 6-2 Murray
Gauff 6-3 6-3 Konta
Galan 4-6 6-4 5-7 6-1 6-1 Norrie
Vesely 6-2 5-7 6-3 6-2 Broady
Nishikori 1-6 6-1 7-6 1-6 6-4 Evans
‘That way you’re not spoiled and not given everything at a young age. You need to work for it, learn the grind and the hard work of the tour, what it takes. It would give more people the opportunity.
‘Right now if you don’t have any funding, tennis is an expensive sport, you need help to travel to tournaments, to pay for a coach. It’s so expensive. I haven’t had support since I was 23 years old in that sense. I pay for me own coach, all of that.
‘I feel, yeah, strongly about it, that more people need help, and money should be spread around so there’s more competition for everyone.’
Asked if she thought the next generation of British talent weren’t working hard enough, she bluntly replied: ‘What younger players? I don’t have anyone to talk about.’
Watson believes there is too much ‘politics’ involved the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and that her voice ‘wouldn’t be heard’ – something that puts her off getting involved in the sport beyond her playing days.
‘I’m very supportive of the players and that,’ added Watson. ‘We’ve had great players. We’ve had Jo Konta, top-10. Andy Murray has been flying the flag for so, so long. Then you’ve got, like, your me’s, your Evo’s, your Norrie’s, your Ked’s [Kyle Edmund] we’ve all had great careers so far. Still got years to go yet.
‘But I definitely wouldn’t want to get involved because of the politics. There’s loads of politics involved. If I’m honest, I don’t think my voice would be heard anyway.’
She continued: ‘I’ve thought about life after tennis. I see Anne Keothavong now, Fed Cup captain, how she’s taking that next step in life. I admire that. I look up to her.
‘Maybe that’s something I would do, I can help in that sense. Apart from that, I don’t like arguing. I don’t like things with politics at all. I think things are just black and white and simple.
‘Like I said, I think lots of people should get help and support and have the opportunity rather than just a very small amount.’
The LTA has invested in two national academies in Stirling and Loughborough, aiming to give the best conditions possible for a small number of young players.
It’s, unsurprisingly, not a decision Watson feels is wise.
‘I’m saying I feel like the more people you help, the more competition
there will be,’ said Watson. ‘Who knows? For example, you don’t know
who’s going to make it.
‘Everybody can have their opinion. You have your talented people, but you also have your hard workers, the people that are dedicated, ask all the questions and that.
‘It’s not just the talented people that get through. If you give the hard workers an opportunity, too, you’ll have more of a pool of players. The more competition there
‘When you see your countrymen and women doing well, it spurs you on, it inspires you, it inspires people to play the sport in general. Yeah, what I’m saying is I just think resources should be spread around rather than concentrated.’
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