It’s happened. We never thought it would, but Andy Murray has reached the top of the ATP rankings. Combine this with Johanna Konta’s Top 10 debut and the future suddenly looks exceptionally bright for the more nationalistic tennis fans in Great Britain.
I have to be honest; I wouldn’t have put money on it. In an era dominated by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, it never really felt realistic to predict this last-minute ascension. After 2012, I reconciled myself with the fact that he probably would win Wimbledon one day, but world No. 1 was surely a stretch too far.
Yet even now I don’t completely trust this ranking. We all know who the best player in the world is. But, since achieving his long-term goal of completing the Career Grand Slam at Roland Garros earlier this year, Novak Djokovic has not been the same. Djokovic was unable to sufficiently defend the points he amassed in the second half of 2015 and this created an opening for Murray. Of course, it is indisputable that he is producing the most consistent results at the moment; and I suppose it’s the ranking system’s prerogative to reflect that.
You can probably detect my cynicism. The Murray bandwagon has never appealed to me. In a fundamentally individual sport, I’ve never been able to see the point in rooting for someone British as if they were in any way playing for me. And if one disregards his nationality, there isn’t much else to enthuse us. His demeanour is a huge turn-off, he lacks charm, growls like a Rottweiler and his interviews sound like the grim reaper being forced to sing a Julie Andrews number.
So, what makes this gloomy Scotsman such a popular figure? Well, the obvious answer is that he is an exceptional tennis player. He is so consistent off the ground, he has a world-class backhand, his court-coverage is ludicrously good and his ambition is fierce. Plus, the idea that someone who is ‘just like us’ could rise to such heights is understandably exhilarating. I suppose that should be enough to make you a legend.
Konta makes history
Of course, Andy Murray’s ongoing success is now pretty old news. This year’s true revelation is Johanna Konta. The Australian-born Eastbourne resident came to our attention last year, when she recorded victories over Garbiñe Muguruza, Ekaterina Makarova and Simona Halep.
She continued in that vein at the Australian Open, taking out Venus Williams in the first round before falling to eventual champion Angelique Kerber in the semi-finals. Her rise throughout the year has been steady and, after winning her first WTA title in Stanford and reaching her first premier-mandatory final in Beijing, she entered the world’s top ten. This is pretty historic; this is the first time in the Open Era that both the ATP and WTA tours have had a British player in the top 10.
Now, the big question: can Konta follow in Murray’s footsteps and win a Grand Slam? I’ve always said that as long as Serena and Maria are on the scene, betting on anyone else would be a bit of a long-shot. Then Kerber won two Grand Slams in a year and ended Serena’s 186-week strangle-hold on the No. 1 ranking. It’s now clearer than ever that anyone in and around the top 10 in the women’s game has, at the very least, an outside chance at winning big. Therefore, one wouldn’t be completely deluded to predict that on the right day and against the right opponent, we could well be seeing our Johanna lift the Venus Rosewater Dish or a trophy of similar weight in the near-future.
British tennis the real winner
So, what are the implications of all this? For a start, history has been made and our more patriotic tennis fans have more to shout about. A sport that has often played second fiddle to football will carry more significance within the national psyche, and the women’s game will receive more mainstream coverage in light of this new British interest. This will surely lead to the greater dissemination of the sport as interest grows and, with any luck, contribute to the eventual coronation of tennis as the worthier national sport.
We’ll probably have to wait a while longer before that final thought can ever become a reality, but it’s a start.