Originally Posted by Brian Stewart
Question for the group: does anyone think a revival of Wightman Cup in some form (perhaps omitting the very top US players at first) might help revive British women's tennis fortunes a bit? While any of Venus/Serena/Jen/Lindsay/Chanda would overwhelm the Brit team, a matchup pitting the Brits against the likes of Stevenson, Gullickson, Haynes, Cargill, Jackson, etc. could prove interesting. And/or perhaps a Junior Wightman Cup?
Interesting one, Brian and difficult to answer. They did have an annual match between the US and British Juniors and I don't think it was that long ago and the Brits did reasonably well in it and won on occasion but it doesn't seem to have had any effect on their performances on the world stage.
I think most of the problems lie with the structure of our LTA and the general attitude towards sport in general in the UK. The game is full of petty jealousies and bureaucracy. Nancy Richey has told us of her experience at Queen's Club 40 years ago when herself and Cliff went out to practice on empty courts and were very quickly made to come off because they weren't members. This sort of attitude still exists today when youngsters aren't allowed to practise even when courts remain unused and with facilities few and far between most who have an initial interest just give up.
Britain once WAS the greatest nation on earth. But those days, and rightly so, have gone. No one has the God-given right to just win anything but we seem to think we have and are still the best when that is anything but true.
As a nation we need to look at our priorities towards sport. Do we want to be serious about it then we have to put the proper funding and effort into it or is it just low down in the scheme of things and something "to be taken part in". If that's what we want fair enough but then we shouldn't get uptight when we aren't successful. Look at what has happened to the women's game in Russia when they devoted their resources to it and I wouldn't bet any money against the same thing happening in China.
In the 50s we had Angela Buxton, Shirley Bloomer, Angela Mortimer, Anne Shilcock, Christine Truman, Ann Haydon who could compete at the top level then into the 60s Jones, Truman carried on with players like Deirdre Catt and Elizabeth Starkie with help from Rita Bentley just outside the top 10. Virginia Wade came along to take over Ann's mantle with help from Winnie Shaw and Joyce Williams but already the field was getting thinner. Sue Barker flickered briefly and Michele Tyler just missed the top 20. Then in the 80s Jo Durie managed a top 10 placing with Anne Hobbs giving a little support although she was a top rate doubles player. But then Jo is out of the top 10, Annabel Croft breaks the top 30 Monique Jaever makes a small splash. Next comes Sam Smith who just falls short of the top 50 until today we can't even get a player in the top 100. It has just been a steady downward pregression.
It would really have amused you to see how the LTA seized on the fact that 4 British girls made the second round at Wimbledon this year as proof that the game was "on the rise". Admittedly they beat higher ranked opposition but none of these were top ranked players and on grass courts at their home Slam this could almost have been expected. The sad fact is that none of those girls would have even been in the event were it not for the Wild Cards. Needless to say they all lost in the second round.
There is a mentality in Britain at the moment that it's "acceptable" to lose bur "didn't they play well"?. Just look at the Americans or Australians, if there's a chance to win something they'll go for it. The Brit attitude is to go for a draw rather than win or play "not to lose" and in those circumstances you usually end up losing anyway. You can only aspire to the top by pitting yourself against the top players so I don't know that by playing lesser ranked American ones it would necessarily help. If they won then immediately the British Press would be building them up as "world beaters" and they would get exalted ideas about their abilities and if they lost they would get torn to shreds. It is a national pastime to try and pull our top stars down, dig into their private lives and dish up any dirt they can find and then kick them when they are down. Doesn't help.
It would be long term project but you would really need to go right to the bottom of the ladder and begin again, devoting the money and energy such as the Russians. There would also need to be a complete change in the mental attitude towards sport and tennis in particular which is still perceived as being middle/upper class.
So I think I would say that overall I don't really believe setting up a "second-tier" Wightman Cup would really help revive Britsh tennis fortunes.
If you're reading this, Declan it would be interesting to hear your views on this.