British tennis is on the up

As sport fans in Britain we are used to disappointment. It’s an expectation so engrained in us from a young age that there’s a certain sense of inevitability whenever we lose a penalty shoot-out, or participate in any Rugby World Cup that isn’t 2003. For the last few decades no sport has this been truer in than tennis. Despite a stereotypical depiction of us Brits as an all-conquering force in the game we popularised worldwide, unfortunately this would be just as fatal a misconception as the idea that that makes us any better at football (but that’s another story). This mediocrity can be epitomised by the fact that for many years tennis fans in this country idolised Tim Henman, even naming a hill at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (the home of Wimbledon) after the big man. He never even reached a Grand Slam final. In fact since the days of Fred Perry only two British men reached a Grand Slam final. The women fared undeniably (but still not much) better, but in recent year they too have fizzled out with Virginia Wade at the 1977 Wimbledon Championships the most recent Slam champion.

However, things would appear to be changing. Of course, there’s the obvious factor of the emergence of Andy Murray, a late bloomer by all accounts but a bloomer nonetheless. In a year much maligned in and outside of sport, 2016 has without a doubt been Murray’s golden year, winning not only Wimbledon for the second time, but also the ATP Tour Finals, and, for the first time, dethroning Novak Djokovic to become world number one, and retaining that title at the prestigious end of year stage. It would be a mistake, however, to assume Murray is the only brilliant bit of news for British tennis at the moment. In addition to the seasoned veteran (albeit a seasoned veteran who finds himself in the best form of his life), a series of young, fresh faces are very much on the up. Yorkshire’s Kyle Edmund has broken into the top fifty for the first time this year, getting to the fourth round of a Slam for the first time at Flushing Meadows in September, to cap a Davis Cup victory alongside Murray last year, when the Brits took home the spoils for the first time for 79 years, winning BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year in the process. Edmund looks the ideal candidate to succeed Murray when the time comes, and is already spoken of as a future top ten star.

But as ever, it’s not all about the men. Far from it, as a plethora of talented female British tennis players make the steady ascent up the world rankings themselves. The trio of Johanna Konta, Laura Robson and Heather Watson lead the way among this group, having shared the British number one spot amongst themselves for the last few years. Konta in particular has enjoyed a stellar year in 2016. Like Edmund, she reached Round 4 in New York, but without a doubt her biggest career achievement to date was reaching the semi-finals in the Australian Open, bowing out to the eventual champion Angelique Kerber. Ending the year as world number ten, she is a definite one to watch as the dominance of veterans such as the Williams sisters comes to an end in the next few years. It would be incredibly surprising not to see her go all the way in a Grand Slam at some point in the next three or four years. Because that’s where we find ourselves as a tennis nation now. No longer must we stick our colours to one mast; things are changing, and the British are coming. 

John Gibby

Featured Image: Andy Murray

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