“As any athlete knows, momentum is the most unstoppable force in sports”
– Rocco Mediate
Sport has always held to the truism that momentum counts, almost as much as ability, to the ability of a team or a single athlete to overturn all in front of them – even against what can appear unfavourable odds. Think of football’s ‘giant-killing’ cup runs, cricket’s dominant generations, golf’s overwhelming individuals – all begin with talent, but so many are maintained on momentum alone.
Can the same thing be true of a federation?
British Women’s Tennis has been stemmed in mediocrity for almost as long as I can remember. To tell the truth, it’s been mediocre for almost my entire life, with the last British WTA victory coming when I was two years old through Sara Gomer’s victory in the Northern California Open in 1988. I’m not going to pretend I can remember. More disconcertingly, until 2012 no British woman had even made the final of a WTA Open since Jo Durie’s appearance in the last Virginia Slims of Newport in 1990. And yet, in the course of just three weeks two British women have registered WTA Final appearances, firstly with Laura Robson’s defeat to Su-Wei Hsieh in the Guangzhou Open and now Heather Watson’s march through the Japanese Open. Nor are these battle-hardened journey(wo)men tennis players, either. At 18 and 20 years of age respectively, Robson and Watson are the future of British women’s tennis.
But why the sea change? Since announcing herself to the British public as a 14 year old with her victory at the Wimbledon Junior Girls’ Championship in 2008, Robson has led a slower development than many observers would have wished (the Great British Media doing their job as arch-nemeses of realism and realistic expectation superbly, one might contend) while Watson has built her reputation slowly through junior tournaments and the main tour, largely outside of the spotlight enjoyed by her junior partner. At similar ages, Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska Caroline Wozniaki and Petra Kvitova had all announced themselves amongst the upper echelons of the game and little evidence existed to suggest the British ladies had the capacity to mount a similar challenge.
And yet, all of a sudden, we have two final appearances. Admittedly, neither tournament is within the top tier and the draws in each have been favourable, yet Robson’s run in Guangzhou saw her best 26th ranked Sorana Cirstea and 39th ranked Shua Peng, while Watson has seen off Anabel Medina Garringues (40th in the world) in a tournament that also included Sam Stosur and Francesca Schiavone. In ranking events, easy tournaments simply do not exist – even without the consistent presence of the world’s top 10, the pool of talent in the women’s game runs deep.
So, momentum? It might just be. Robson’s form had plateaued until a storming run to the Doubles Finals at Wimbledon alongside an inspired Andy Murray began to rejuvenate her. Suddenly, with a force of success behind her, her impact on the court rocketed. Watson’s own final appearance comes on the back of the brightest year in British Women’s tennis in either player’s lifetime and that thing called momentum seems to be spreading out amongst British Women’s tennis.
One slight cautionary point remains (and remains to be expanded upon within a very different article than this one) – while Robson has been a product of training within the LTA’s development programme, Watson’s training comes from the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. If British Women’s Tennis really wishes to use the momentum it is currently generating, more must be done from within.
Image from http://www1.skysports.com/tennis/news (thanks!)