John Lloyd talks to Hyder Jawad about his belief in Birmingham and his love of the Davis Cup
It is pouring with rain, overcast skies are turning Birmingham prematurely dark, and a shrill wind is whistling like a kettle. John Lloyd does not really fit in. With his suntan and handsome features, he should be in California absorbing the endless sunshine.
But California is home and, for now at least, Birmingham is work. He is happy with the contrasts because this is his place of choice. That is largely because he likes Birmingham — "the people are so passionate" — but also because he sees it as being good for business. And, of course, good for sporting success.
"What is better than seven or eight thousand people in Birmingham cheering on our Davis Cup team?" Lloyd asks, rhetorically. "That is why I made my decision to bring the tie to Birmingham. It was my first choice. My only choice, actually."
Lloyd, the British Davis Cup captain, will lead his team out to face Holland at the NEC on April 6. A victory would put Britain in the play-offs for a place in the World Cup. Defeat would end the Lloyd honeymoon that began with a 3-2 victory against Ukraine in Odessa two months ago.
"Birmingham can turn a Davis Cup tie into the atmosphere of a football match, which is perfect for that kind of event. But, just as importantly, the Birmingham public really get what the Davis Cup is all about. The passion here can sometimes be the difference between winning and losing."
And sometimes the difference between winning and losing is even more tenuous than that, for Britain has a strange relationship with the Davis Cup over the past five years. So much potential, so much hope; so much frustration, so much soul-searching.
Lloyd surely knows that if Tim Henman returned to the squad, Britain would win without trouble. But Henman is a busy man, with a flourishing family, and officially enjoying his Davis Cup retirement.
If Lloyd could persuade Henman to play against the Dutch, the possibilities are endless.
Picture the scene: Andy Murray, Henman, and Greg Rusedski playing Davis Cup for Britain at Wimbledon in September 2007, bidding for a place in the World Group. "Imagine that," Lloyd says, "the three of them on grass, at home. You would fancy us to do well, wouldn't you."
Indeed, but Henman has not yet been tempted out of Davis Cup retirement, Rusedski is physically in decline, and Murray is just one man — and one man, even an animated Scot, cannot win a Davis Cup tie alone.
"I have spoken to Tim about Davis Cup and I think a decision will be made at about the time of the Australian Open next month," Lloyd says. "That is a good time because, if he does not play, it gives me a chance to make my plans without him. He has certainly not ruled it out.
"I spoke to him in September [at the US Open] and he said that he did not have the time to play Davis Cup. That is no problem. I accept that. But I would love a Davis Cup team with Tim Henman in there.
"Greg is also someone I would like but I need to see how he is. And if he is not available for whatever reason, I will plan a team without him. I will eventually have to make use of younger players but, at this point, I have to win the match. That is everything."
Lloyd has not yet mentioned Alex Bogdanovich, the enigma of British tennis, but here the subject presents itself. Bogdanovich, born in Belgrade but essentially British, is in the form of his life but does not translate this to the unique surroundings of Davis Cup.
When Bogdanovich, a left-hander, performed badly for Britain against Israel last year, Lloyd offered appropriate criticism. In public, of course. This was easy for Lloyd to do because he is also a broadcaster for the BBC.
Bogdanovich brooded darkly — he does not take criticism well — but Lloyd is unrepentant. The Davis Cup captain and BBC commentator does not see a conflict of interest. Some would even say that one complements the other.
"I am not a hatchet man. That is not my style. But I do like to tell it as it is," Lloyd says. "I am what you might call
straight-talking. And that is how I like to broadcast. I am not out there to criticise people. I will only do that if they have had a bad match, just as I will praise them if they have had a good match.
"I can understand those who think that there might be a conflict of interest between broadcasting and being the British Davis Cup captain, but I don't think I will compromise the two. I am comfortable with it all.
"In fact, I spoke to John Fitzgerald, who is the Australian Davis Cup captain, and Patrick McEnroe, who is the American Davis Cup captain. Both are also broadcasters and both wondered about how it might appear and what might happen.
"When I took the job as British Davis Cup captain, I asked them about any potential problems. But they left me in no doubt that there should not be a problem. When I took the job as captain, I asked the BBC if they were happy about it. And they were happy. They said so. So there is no problem."
No problem for Llloyd, or for the thousands who welcome his views, but perhaps Bogdanovich is still bristling. Lloyd shrugs his shoulders and smiles his Hollywood smile.
"In the case of Alex, he had two poor Davis Cup matches and I could not escape from that," he says. "It happened. I gave my opinion about that. It was nothing personal and he knows that.
"At the moment, Alex has not yet convinced me that he is fully committed to playing Davis Cup for Great Britain. I hope he is, or wants to be, but I have not yet seen that. I want players who are more than 100 per cent."
Bogdanovich is not the first player to be less impressive in Davis Cup than on the main ATP Tour. Roger Federer hardly plays Davis Cup, Andre Agassi rarely played it, and Pete Sampras even less. The tournament has been devalued for a generation and Lloyd, who would prefer a large, one-off event, laments that.
He played in 23 Davis Cup ties from 1974 to 1986 — and so remains concerned that it might suffer from something of an identity crisis.
"It started with Bjorn Borg," he says. "He did not play Davis Cup for Sweden and now a lot of the best players don't compete. I mean, Switzerland are playing Spain and that would have been the chance for Roger Federer to face Rafael Nadal. But Roger isn't playing. That is sad.
"It is a problem that some of the top players are missing out. And it is a problem that when Russia played Argentina in the final last weekend, only people in those countries and committed tennis fans were interested.
"Davis Cup was and is a big thing for me. I remember being part of the British team that defeated Australia in the 1978 semi-final [in Crystal Palace, London]. I had many great moments in my career and the ones that stick out are either grand-slam memories or Davis Cup memories.
"We had a good match against Italy at Wimbledon in 1976, where I played doubles alongside my brother [David Lloyd, owner of the health-club chain] and that was a brilliant thing. That was an occasion when the crowd got behind us. Even now, 30 years on, the memory is fresh. Davis Cup is like that.
"I've often thought about how big the Davis Cup would be if it was staged, like the World Cup in football, every four years. It would be one event, rather than spread over a year, and I think that would be great for the sport."
Lloyd lives in Pacific Palasades, Los Angeles, with Deborah, his wife, and a son and a daughter. He leads a full life, with plenty of travel, and knows everyone in the game.
With his experience and charisma, Lloyd was destined to become the Davis Cup captain. The surprise to many was that it took so long — he has waited patiently to be asked — but Roger Taylor and Jeremy Bates, seemingly, were higher up the queue.
He was the British Davis Cup coach from 1997 to 2000 but thought that the top job had passed him by. "I didn't think I'd ever get this job, I really didn't," Lloyd says. "And I would say that it is the next best thing to actually playing Davis Cup for Great Britain. It is such a thrill for me. I regard it as a big honour."
Now 55, he does not live in the past. He reached the final of the Australian Open in 1977 and won the mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon and the French Open. He has had "the best life ever" and taking the job of Davis Cup captain is the latest in a long line of achievements.
"But it will only continue to feel this good for Lloyd if, as is likely, Britain fulfil their potential and rise from this state of semi-obscurity and move back into the game's elite.
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