By Jack Johnson
Five years ago British tennis was in a state of disarray. Tim Henman appeared in his last ever Wimbledon, leaving Andy Murray as the only British player ranked inside the top 100 while women’s tennis was going nowhere fast.
The picture today could not be any different. Murray is an Olympic champion, a grand slam finalist and a contender for the 2012 US Open. He may still be the only British man ranked inside the top 150 but with Kyle Edmund and 2011 US Open junior champion Oliver Golding being tipped for great things, it may not be too long before there are more Brits near the top 100.
It is on the WTA tour though – with four women in the top 150 – where the British have made huge strides. Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha have carried the flag for long enough and with their careers looking to be coming to an end shortly – Baltacha has just had ankle surgery – there needs to be fresh blood.
The two girls coming through could not be any better. Laura Robson won the Wimbledon girls title at just 14 and now four years later she is ranked as the World No. 91 with an Olympic silver medal. Heather Watson, the girls champion at the US Open in 2010 is the World No. 70 and the 20-year-old has won two WTA doubles titles already.
For the first time in a while the Brits have two young female players who look as though they can be top 30 at the very least.
Robson’s 7-6 7-6 victory over Kim Clijsters at the US Open yesterday – her biggest win to date – proves that she has the talent to prevail at the top and she has troubled Maria Sharapova on a couple of occasions on the grass of Wimbledon over the last few years.
Watson made the headlines in Britain by reaching the third round of Wimbledon this year and although she was beaten by Li Na in the first round of the US Open a couple of days ago, leaving the court feeling frustrated that she was defeated by a tournament favourite shows the potential is there.
So what has made the difference?
Nigel Sears certainly made a big impact during his time in charge of the women at the LTA and his departure to coach Ana Ivanovic raised eyebrows over in Britian. They needn’t have though as Judy Murray, the LTA fed cup captain, has made a great impact taking them to the brink of qualifying for the World Group.
British tennis, especially on the WTA is on the up and the following words about Robson’s victory over Clijsters by BBC’s tennis correspondent Jonathan Overend sums up where British female tennis is at the moment:
“A performance like this had been coming from Robson and it was fabulous to watch. We’ve seen her perform impressively at Wimbledon, and the next logical step was to deliver a consistently brilliant performance against a world-class opponent. Her aggressive style of hitting is so unusual among top players, her movement in and out of the corners has improved immeasurably this year, and the way she kept her composure when the going got tough in the two tie-breaks was so mature. This, at the age of 18, was a top 10 performance.”
Robson and Watson are catching the eye of those at the top of the sport at the moment but in a couple of year’s time they will be the ones looking down from the top 30. It’s safe to say that British female tennis is on the up and looking healthy.