Downey hails Davis Cup boost
4:56pm Monday 3rd February 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Britain's historic Davis Cup triumph over the United States will help to drive a revival in the number of people playing tennis, according to the new head of the Lawn Tennis Association.
Mike Downey, who has only been in the job a month after moving from Tennis Canada, believes the success can be harnessed by the campaign to boost participation after some stagnant years which has seen the LTA lose a considerable chunk of funding.
Britain are into the Davis Cup quarter-finals for the first time since 1986 after Andy Murray secured the winning point in San Diego - it is the first time Britain have beaten the United States since 1935 and the team will next travel to Italy in April.
Downey, 56, said: "From my experience in Canada I think success at Davis Cup and [women's] Fed Cup is very important to the health of the sport in the country.
"It becomes 'water cooler talk' because it's about motivation, pride and the country doing well, and tennis is getting far more coverage today than it normally would, and it will again when we play Italy.
"It is also really very special in that this is a team event, and you are representing your country, and it makes it even more special to beat the Americans to advance to the first quarter-final for more than 25 years away, and dealing with a pretty unruly crowd."
Last year, Sport England reduced tennis's money by £530,000 and then again last month by £114,000 for the youth age group after a fall in participation - and that despite Murray's Wimbledon triumph - but the funding body said it has been impressed by the LTA's plans for the future.
For Downey, the Davis Cup success can be part of the platform to restore the sport at grass-roots level. The new chief executive organised a party for 100 staff to watch live coverage of the first match on Friday night and said the excitement at the victory had been notable.
He added: "We had all the flags out and it was a great night, and great for team-building too.
"The emotive nature of the Davis Cup indirectly helps things like participation, and I think that was one of the things we maybe didn't have enough focus on.
"Now we do and I think Sport England has been good for us."
Downey believes Murray's positive influence on Britain could be key in Italy, even though it is likely to be on clay, with Roger Federer and Switzerland lurking as potentially dangerous opponents now that Spain, Serbia and the United States are out.
Downey said: "We have a good chance in Italy especially with Andy playing - and playing so well - as it helps raise the game of the other players.
"Andy played so well on Friday and that gave emphasis to Ward's game, and he stepped up.
"What we want now is a long run in the World Group, the top 16 countries, where the stakes are higher, and where the great tennis nations continue to be."
After years in the wilderness of the Euro-African Group II, from a nadir in 2010 when Britain lost to Lithuania, Britain are now at vertigo-inducing heights.
Murray accepted as much, and has no fear about facing Italy on clay.
He said: "This is the first time I've been involved in Davis Cup that we've had a chance of winning the competition.
"It's good for me to play on the clay. Often going into the clay season I haven't played any matches on it for 11 months. It'll be a tough match."