As the ATP Tour Finals begin at London’s O2 Arena, Scottish champion Andy Murray aims to be looking to put the icing on the cake after quite a year for British tennis.
The last 12 months seemed to show a remarkable and unprecedented tennis renaissance on these shores that goes beyond Murray’s heroics. Looking back to January’s Australian Open, the presence of six Britons in the main draw all by merit, constituted the most UK participation in 20 years. While Murray went on to reach his fifth consecutive Grand Slam semi-final, Liam Broady and Josh Ward-Hibbert claimed the boys’ doubles title, the third slam in a row that had finished with a British junior champion.
A week later, the Fed Cup team of Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson and Laura Robson, gelled together by Captain Judy Murray’s renowned attention to detail escaped the tentacles of the 15-strong Europe/Africa Zone Group I, ending a 19-year tenancy. Further into February, there was another landmark result. Dan Evans earned the Murray-less British Davis Cup team a 3-2 win over Slovakia, putting them within two wins of reaching the World Group.
British tennis may have achieved the success that the expectant country has been so close to for so long, players have been winning more frequently and the honour goes to them. Murray has particularly shown himself to be a world class player. A Roland Garros semi-final was a pleasant surprise and reaching the Wimbledon final was equal success. Federer bowed out of the tournament after resisting but eventually succumbing to his competitor.
“When he saw the love and support from the public even though he had bowed out, that really helped him to get over the thwart,” his mother Judy said.
“Winning singles gold and silver in the mixed doubles gave him so much confidence and again the public were so much behind him.”
The Olympic gold medal was the first chapter in a fairytale that continued with what may have been the biggest test of his career at the US Open where Murray harrowed the bright lights of Flushing Meadows, besting the defending champion Novak Djokovic and the fifth-final bogey.
Squatting down onto his haunches, his face a picture of surprise, Murray may have been hard-pressed to absorb the fact that after a record-equalling four hours and 54 minutes, he had ended Britain’s 76-year wait for a male Grand Slam singles champion.
“When I was serving for the match, there was a sense of how big a moment that is in British tennis history,” Murray said. “I hope it inspires kids to play tennis and takes away the notion that British tennis players choke or don’t win. Tennis is in a very good place in the UK right now. I hope it stays that way.”
Jonny Marray, who is also competing at the O2 in the doubles event alongside Frederik Nielsen, became the first Briton to win the men’s doubles at Wimbledon since 1936, and the first ever ‘wild card’ to do so. Wimbledon boys’ finalist (2011) Liam Broady almost emulated Murray’s success at Flushing Meadows as he reached his second junior final.
To add to her Olympic mixed doubles gold with Murray, Robson became the first British woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam singles tournament since Sam Smith in 1998 with her wins over Kim Clijsters and Li Na at the US Open. A few weeks after that, she was in a WTA final in Guangzhou, matching Jo Durie’s feat of 1990. Watson, jostling alongside good friend Robson in the rankings, broke the WTA title duck a matter of weeks later in Japan. This secured her place as the first British female title-winner in 24 years.
“We’re both great players, however most importantly we’re both so competitive in whatever we do, and when we see each other doing well we want to do just as well or even better,” Watson said about their rivalry.
All in all, 2012 may be remembered as a breakthrough year for British tennis.
How may the success of fellow Britons in the world of tennis, support to create new young British athletes?