23 June 2002
Marc Moreso was hailed as the most talented youngster of Henman’s generation, but he has few regrets about opting out
At 28, he is already high in the rankings and now feels on the verge of the big breakthrough. His body language is more confident than at any time since David Lloyd made him one of the famous Slater Squad at Reeds School in Oxshott, Surrey, saying: “This is the most talented kid I have ever seen.” Only now the buzz is for business not tennis and the racket is never used. This is Marc Moreso not Tim Henman.
On Wednesday morning there was a hearse outside the church opposite Moreso’s Sportsweb offices in a converted girls’ school next to Battersea Station. Going up the stairs, looking at honours boards of games captains from long ago was to imagine that, as Wimbledon looms, there must be some sense of funeral about a young man about whom Lloyd still waxes lyrical.
“His racket talent was unbelievable,” says Lloyd. “He was a left-hander, it was like watching a young Laver. Yet it all came so easy to Marc that he found practice less appealing, in the end he did not want to do the drudgery needed to be a top-class tennis player. Tim was different. Obviously he had good ball skills but his real talent was the desire.”
So surely there will be a sense of wistful `might have been’ about the engagingly alert young man who comes out of a glass cubicle in the corner of the busy hive which is part of The Sportsweb staff recruiting agency for sports and health clubs which he started in 1997 with his former Reeds House prefect (though not Slater Squad member), Tony Wilde. The replies are as crisp and early as if he was already at the net.
“Of course, at the beginning I had my daydream of walking out on to the Centre Court,” he says, the head balding, the eyes brown from his Spanish father who at one stage ran a couple of Kings Road restaurants. “But there is a big transition in life, and now I only dream about playing the final in the way we all do about things like playing for England in the World Cup or driving Ferrari’s No 2 car at Monaco.”
The fairy was generous with her gifts at Moreso’s cradle. His sports-loving parents (his mother was Scottish) brought him up in Streatham and while he only picked up a tennis racket as an eight-year-old because his sister had progressed to the national squad, the results were immediate. He won the first tournament he entered and before long had won the Surrey Under-12s as a 10-year-old, the prize for which was a year’s coaching with David Lloyd. Under him, Moreso flourished so quickly that in 1985 he and David Loosemore became the first two members of the `Slater Squad’ taking a full six-year boarding scholarship at Reeds School.
“He was a very lively boy,” says Richard Garrett, his house master and ongoing mentor. “He enjoyed life to the full in every situation which you can imagine sometimes made things tricky for a schoolboy. But he is an incredibly loyal person and I am in touch with him nearly every day on a project to revive a new LTA-backed version of the original Slater Squad concept about which Tim is also being very supportive. It always seems sad when someone as talented as Marc doesn’t do as much as he could with his sport but he just decided that this was not the career he wanted.”
Decisions about 16-year-olds not continuing on sporting scholarship schemes are usually made by the coaches because of inadequacy, not by pupils due to lack of interest. But Moreso knew his own head. He rang up his parents (by then moved to Lanzarote). “The fact that they were away probably made it a bit easier,” says Moreso, “but I didn’t feel I had made a wrong decision or that I was going to struggle in life.
“The saddest part was telling David and the coaches. I remember welling up when writing David a long letter trying to explain my reasons. Here was this guy who spent probably a million £on me over five years and for me to turn round and say I am not playing was a knife in the back. But to this day he won’t say a bad word about me. He supports me in everything I do. I am hugely privileged to have known him.”
Moreso actually thinks Lloyd was too nice to him. For after two more non-tennis (but hockey team) terms at Reeds and a lazy summer in Lanzarote, he did a volte face, won a place at Nick Bollettieri’s academy in Florida and in 11 months worked himself right back into contention. “It was very hard, I got unbelievably fit, and almost got my desire back. But in my heart I knew that I wasn’t going to be a competitor.”
Family problems brought him back to London. He took a job at the Harbour Club, coached among others Princess Diana and her sons, the boss of Benetton and also the head of a commodities house who persuaded him to join for three “work-hard, play-hard” years before teaming up with Wild to create their present business which ranks No 1 in its field. “Albeit,” he adds with a grin, “in a pretty under-serviced market, we are the world leaders.”
It’s time for the match (sorry, interview) to end. The young man opposite, married to Charlotte and living with their cat Caspar in Southfields, next to Wimbledon, looks as if he has a major or two within him. “I don’t really mind what I do,” he says of the future of The Sportsweb and its sister operation Leisurejobs.com which are now turning over £3 million a year between them, “but I really want to enjoy it. Let’s have a go. Part of that attitude is definitely instilled by David Lloyd – `try everything and be afraid of nothing’.”
So to the next fortnight and how will his former school-mate survive? “I hope things fall into place for Tim. He deserves to win it. He could win it if things fall into place. Of course, you have people like Hewitt who are so good all round that it’s going to be tough. But Tim has a wonderful grass-court game. Fingers crossed.
“He tried harder than anyone,” he adds about the man whose friendship hasn’t changed. “His attitude at school was unbelievable to the point that as a kid you look round and turn your nose up at it and ask `why don’t you want to mess about a bit more?’
“Hindsight is an easy tool to use, but I do remember once playing at Heston, me and Tim playing doubles against David and coach Donald Watts. David hit a return he probably shouldn’t have against a 12-year-old. It was 2,000 miles an hour, and Tim came across and intercepted a volley so well I was just gobsmacked. But apart from that I don’t remember having any inklings at an early stage that Tim was the one out of the squad that could make it through. It is a testament to brain power and willpower.”
Sometime in the next couple of years Moreso will probably cash in his business and become that most solid ranking of success, a millionaire by the time he is 30. But for his next trick he is unlikely to take the timid route. For the coming fortnight you can bet that Tim Henman will also be repeating one of David Lloyd’s favourite mantra: “It is better to die standing up than to live life on your knees.”