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By Matthew Handley
Wimbledon — the grandest of the four Grand Slam tournaments — enjoys new leadership effective this month. While rugby and tennis don’t have much in common, except that both require a ball to play, administratively, recent changes are linking the two pretty powerfully.
The new man in charge: Richard Lewis, a former Davis Cup player for Britain, who ranked as high as World No. 68 in his heyday. His former role: chairman of the Rugby Football League.
A player in seven Davis Cup ties during his time on Tour, including helping the British team advance to the semifinals in 1981, Lewis replaces Ian Ritchie, a former captain of the Oxford Penguins, who was named CEO of the Rugby Football Union in December.
With the tennis-to-rugby flip-flop, it’ll be interesting to follow the ways in which the two experienced management professionals develop their respective sports. The transition, however, might not prove to be seamless, especially with Ritchie’s “huge task of rebuilding the RFU following the calamitous World Cup campaign,” according to Rob Wildman of the Mail Online.
Meanwhile, Lewis enters his position at a tough time for British tennis. With World No. 4 and three-time Grand Slam finalist Andy Murray the only foreseeable chance on paper for the nation to hoist a Grand Slam trophy any time soon, major titles have come few and far between. A Brit’s last Grand Slam title came with Virginia Wade’ s historic 1977 win at Wimbledon during the tournament’s centennial celebration. For the men, the record books take us back to Fred Perry’s three consecutive Wimbledon crowns in a row, with the last dating to 1936.
An experienced tennis player, Lewis enjoyed some success at the All England Club. In his third appearance, the Middlesex-native found himself in the Round of 32 in 1976. In his next eight attempts, however, he failed to win another match at SW19 notably facing legend Jimmy Connors in the first round twice.
While it isn’t Lewis’ place to use his influence to help a British player take the title, he will be held partly responsible for inspiring a renaissance of tennis in the UK’s youth. Wimbledon donates a portion of its revenue to the UK’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) each year. According to the LTA’s website, the organization’s “overall purpose is to continue to grow and sustain the sport.” Additionally, “the vision for British tennis continues to be ‘winning’ at everything we do.”
Bolstering the connection between Lewis, the tournament and the UK’s tennis association, he served as Director of Tennis for the LTA from 1998 to 2000. Lewis stepped down upon the country’s defeat to Ecuador in Davis Cup, relegating the UK to a lower tier of competition.
From the former tennis player on replacing rugby with Wimbledon: “I leave the RFL after 10 fulfilling years during which the sport has grown and prospered. I am extremely grateful to all the colleagues with whom I have had the privilege to work.”
He continued: “I leave with a mixture of sadness but also excitement at taking up another wonderful opportunity.” If Lewis’ leadership proves a success, hopefully it’ll be just as wonderful an opportunity for English tennis.
PHOTO/ Paul Kane