Great Britain has a new No.2… and he’s from Slovenia.
To the chagrin of the Slovenian tennis federation (who have lost a key player), and the middle-ranked Brits (who have been displaced in the rankings), Aljaz Bedene has switched allegiance to compete under the Union Jack.
He’s currently ranked 99 in the world, placing him nine ATP ranking spots above the new British No.3 James Ward.
It doesn’t seem to be a cynical move designed to exploit the wealthy British federation (the Lawn Tennis Association) or clinch an easy Wimbledon wildcard. After all, Bedene has lived in the UK for the last seven years, setting up a solid training base just north of London, living with his pop star girlfriend, and fully integrating into British life.
However, you can guarantee the financial opportunities for a British player are infinitely greater than for a Slovene.
Make what you will of the emigration.
The British LTA certainly isn’t a reluctant adoptive parent. Bedene has lots of potential, particularly if his clay-court skills plug a gap in their potential armoury. [Bedene has won no less than 14 Challenger and Futures events.]
Not everyone’s welcoming him with open arms, however. Last year British player Dan Evans tweeted:
“So a guy is becoming British who has already played for his country... Doesn’t quite sound right to me!”
And presumably, if Bedene is eventually cleared to compete for the GB Davis Cup team (current rules prevent this but he is appealing), other British players wouldn’t appreciate being dislodged.
Not everyone’s upset, though. Andy Murray sees the newcomer as a spur to other British players. He told them to stop moaning about an obvious benefit to British sport.
“If he was ranked 500 in the world they [the other Britons] wouldn’t be that fussed about it. But he threatens their position a bit and he’s now the British No 2 comfortably as well.
“They can complain about it but the best thing to do is try and use it in the right way. He is British now; accept it for what it is. I think it can only be seen as positive. He is a very good player. He’s on the tour every week. The other guys aren’t quite there so they can use it for motivation.”
Former British No.1 Greg Rusedski (who’s no stranger to switching nations) agrees.
“Every time you get another player in the top 100 it can only be of benefit,” he said. “I think he will help drive players to get ahead of him.”
Tennis has seen dozens of passport changes over the years.
During the 20th Century there were multiple refugees from communism such as Jaroslav Drobny (Czechoslovakia to Egypt to Great Britain), Hu Na (China to USA), Jakob Hlasek (Czechoslovakia to Switzerland) and, most famously of all, Martina Navratilova whose defection from Czechoslovakia to the USA was like something out of a Cold War thriller.
In apartheid South Africa, several players such as Neil Broad, Kevin Curren, Johan Kriek and Rosalyn Fairbank, changed nation in order to circumvent political bans on playing abroad.
Some players are lured abroad by better facilities. Take Monica Seles, for example. “Four. That’s the number of tennis courts we had in our town when I was a kid,” she wrote. “None of the courts was indoors, and winters were freezing.” She moved to Florida and became an American. Many others have followed suit.
Sometimes families simply migrate. Martina Hingis’s mother moved from Czechoslovakia to Switzerland; Anna Smashnova’s family from Belarus to Israel.
Other times, families get overbearing. Take Mary Pierce, for example, whose unhinged American father drove her across the Atlantic to her mother’s native France.
But there’s one player who really couldn’t make up her mind which nation she wanted to represent. That was Bettina Bunge.
Born to a German family in Switzerland in 1963, she played at one time or another under the flags of Peru, USA, Germany and Monte Carlo.
Bedene’s first chance to really prove himself will be at the French Open, starting in May. Given his clay-court skills, he could potentially make a slight dent in the draw.
Unibet are offering the following odds for the French Open: in the men’s draw Novak Djokovic is favourite at 2.38, followed by Rafa Nadal at 2.88, Stan Wawrinka at 13.00 and Roger Federer at 16.00.
In the women’s draw Serena Williams is favourite at 3.00, followed by Maria Sharapova at 5.00, Simona Halep at 6.00 and Victoria Azarenka at 9.00.