Has British tennis lost its advantage? There was optimism in women’s tennis when Laura Robson reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and Heather Watson reached a career-high ranking of 39 last year.
Fast forward to January 2014 and things do not appear so rosy. Most of this new-found pessimism may be due to the early exits of Robson and Watson at the Australian Open. Once again, British hopes for Grand Slam success rest solely on Andy Murray, and the vacuum in quality behind the British number one cannot be good.
Despite junior Grand Slam success, the transition from the junior tour to the professional tour has been rough. They are still searching for the consistency that will translate into success.
A compelling case has been made by former top players that British tennis players do not have the same resilience as the Spaniards or the Serbs. Former British number one Elena Baltacha suggested coaches need to “be harder with the players” and Pat Cash wrote about the “demanding contests” which imbue Spanish juniors with a certain mental toughness the Brits may lack.
Although Robson and Watson do not necessarily lack mental toughness, there is a long-term trend of British players unwilling to build upon junior success at a senior level. Perhaps this is linked to the Lawn Tennis Association’s generous funding structure for a small group of elite players. John Lloyd, former Davis Cup Captain, acknowledges that “spending money on players at the top has not worked” and that a new approach is needed to get the best out of our elite.
It is 2014. We can no longer bathe in the glow of Murray’s Wimbledon win. We need to breed a culture from the bottom up if we are to have sustained success. We must remember that Robson and Watson are 19 and 21. They still have opportunities to fulfil their potential.