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Murray, Watson, Robson & Marray provide golden period

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Jonathan Overend | 08:00 UK time, Monday, 15 October 2012

The stories in British tennis have been all too familiar over the past couple of decades - unfulfilled talent, near misses at the majors, juniors failing to deliver on over-generous financial investment - which makes the revival of 2012 so unexpected, so remarkable, so plain brilliant.

In the space of three and a half months:
Heather Watson

Heather Watson enjoys her victory in Japan. Picture: Getty

Today we celebrate the achievement of Heather Watson, the 20-year-old from Guernsey, who beat Chang Kai-chen in the final of the Japan Open in Osaka.

Her opponent may have been lower ranked and she didn't have to beat the best in the world - these are indisputable facts - but that matters not one jot to the ever-smiling Watson. This was all about getting the job done and getting that first top-level trophy. Hopefully the first of many.

Chang had beaten the top-seed, former US Open Champion Sam Stosur, in the semis so deserved her tilt at the title.

Anyone cruel enough to to downgrade the achievement of such a hard-working and single-minded athlete on the basis of the opposition, should do so with due consideration of the mental challenge Watson overcame at crucial periods in her first final.

The disappointment of failing to serve out the match at 5-3 in the second set was potentially crushing. Would that be chance over? When it went one-set all, one feared for Heather in the same way we feared for Andy when the New York final went two-all.

She slipped behind a break in the decider and then, 5-4 down, was a single point from defeat. Anyone who has to face a total of four championship points and then, minutes later, finds the trophy in their hands, deserves enormous praise.

This is a fantastic end to a year which started so badly for Watson.

Going into the Miami event this year, she was despondent. She knew she'd come back from injury too soon at the start of the season and nothing seemed to be going right on the court.

Then, in a startling first-round match, she recovered from 5-0 down final set to beat Sorana Cirstea, the Romanian, and things started moving once more.

Injury, despondency, poor form; such is life on the pro circuit. It's all about how players respond and learn. Do they want to respond? Do they know how? Watson has answered both questions unequivocally.

Out on tour, one tournament after another, there is little time to breathe and take stock with the learning curve so steep it's hardly surprising some fail to get close to the summit.

And this is why, as we broaden the subject to consider whether this is a genuine British tennis revival, the sport of tennis remains such an individual fascination.

Murray, Watson and Robson are all proving that in an individual sport, the individual needs to want it.

Watson has always struck me as someone keen to learn. Her tennis education, at the IMG Bolletieri Academy in Florida, was combined with academic studies. Books under arms in the morning, racquets in hand after lunch. Don't enjoy it? Chance over. That's the thinking out there.

Murray has often considered whether he needs a coach - some of his best results came when he was out there on his own - and then he met Ivan Lendl. He wanted to learn more - he never tires of asking questions, from my experience - and now he's a Grand Slam champion.

Robson also has a new coach this year and on the evidence of New York and Guangzhou, her tennis education continues at a fast-track pace.

At the moment we have three fabulous players - claiming scalps, winning titles, restoring national reputations - and British tennis is undoubtedly in a much healthier state now than a year ago. I believe the best is still to come from all three of them.

But there is insufficient back up to suggest a wholesale change with future success guaranteed. No tidal wave of GB talent is about to takeover the world's top 100 (Murray is alone inside the men's top 200) and the long-term work to fix British tennis must continue as before. We haven't suddenly become world-beaters.

The current feel-good factor is because of the achievements of three individuals.

For all the investment in coaches, support staff and lavish facilities, the only person to save those match points in Osaka was Heather Watson, the only person to serve out for the US Open was Andy Murray and the only person finishing off two Grand Slam Champions in New York was Laura Robson.

So while they can't magic up a long-term solution to the age-old problem of British tennis - a problem which won't be properly solved until the number of kids playing competitively and the number of indoor facilities increase significantly - they can inspire. This has to be the great hope.

As Heather Watson celebrated her latest success in an Osaka bowling alley last night - at least that was the plan - the British flag flies proudly once again on the international tennis scene. Let's make the most of it.

Watson, Robson and Murray are raising spirits and raising standards.

In this most testing of individual sports, hopefully the kids will be inspired to watch more, play more, and - most importantly - keep learning.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    What a great year of tennis and I expect next year to be even better. Just some depth in the British mens game as behind Murray there is not a lot!

  • Comment number 2.

    I think it's fantastic, the success we've had translating two very successful juniors in Robson and Watson, into top 50 players (or almost top 50 in Laura's case). I think the key test will be whether we can do the same with our top male juniors. Golding, Morgan, Edmund, Broady, Ward-Hibbert and Brambridge have all featured at the top level in the juniors. Although it is notorious much more challenging for a top male junior to become a top male player in comparison to the women's game, it would be incredibly disappointing if none of these guys get to top hundred in singles or top 30ish in doubles. This is where your point about the quality of the individual is so important. The translation from top junior to top professional is so tough, and if these guy's aren't committed 100% they won't make top 500, let alone top 50.

  • Comment number 3.

    It was a great achievement but I think Laura Robson has more potential to further in the women's game. The lack of power in Watson's game will hamper her against top level pros.
    I do think the competition amongst the british girls, along with their exposure to Andy Murray has helped their progress though.

  • Comment number 4.

    Cant wait for next year. Finally some real progress after years of disappointment. Come on the girls!

  • Comment number 5.

    I believe that Heather Waton said this was her last tournament of the year. What she needs to do is to spend the off season working hard in the gym to build upper body strength. She won't turn into the Williams sisters but an extra 10% in strength to go with her mobility and determination will give her the possibility of getting to the top 30 as a next step. Once she can sustain that position she has a platform to progress still further. In Laura Robson's case it is all about her ability to move - get to the corners one step quicker and she will be top 20.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm shocked that someone with your experience following the sport would dedicate so many words to discrediting Heather's opposition. It should be plain to you how much more competitive the tours are becoming.

    Have you forgotten that just a few months ago, the world no.2 crashed out in the 2nd round to the world no.100? or that in the last 2 slams, Johanna Konta, ranked outside the top 200, was consistently punching well above her rank?

    Nowadays, a player on the top 100 fringe, playing on a good day, is like a top 30 player on a slightly-off day. Robson got her first top 30 win before she turned 16, ranked at lord-knows-what in the world. It shouldn't be an embarrassment anymore.

    Su-Wei Hsieh was ranked 60-odd when she beat Robson a few weeks ago; today she's ranked 25! and Robson's rank won't reflect the level she's playing at until the US Open next year.

    Kai-Chen is 21, the main break-through age these days; and this result takes her into the top 100. In her draw she beat Christina McHale, and went on to edge both Robson and Stosur in 3rd set tie-breaks. Having seen one of Robson's Guangzhou matches, I trust that Kai-Chen managed this for a good reason, rather than a spectacular no-show from all of her opponents.

    She might perhaps have won the whole thing if her service profile for the final was as good as it had been in her previous matches, and she hadn't served 0 aces to 7 double faults.

    You of all people should know better than to entertain any thoughts of looking at rankings like it's still the 90s.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good job by the young Miss Watson. Regardless of where this tournament ranks in prestige against the rest of the tennis calendar, the competition for the spoils is immense. This tournament may rank somewhere between a Challenger and a Premier event, but the likes of Agassi and Capriati rebuilt their faltering games in the lower leagues, so to speak, of the tour.

  • Comment number 8.

    #6, that strikes me as a bit unfair on Mr Overend. He mentioned the criticisms to dismiss them. He also noted that Chang was only in the final having deposed of a top ten player in Stosur.
    Winning a full tour event matters enormously, it will always be on Watson's record and the relative strength or weakness of the draw is not something that will be noted. Who now remembers how strong the San Jose Open was in 2005 (Murray's first title)?
    On the other hand, it is an undeniable fact that Stosur was the only top twenty player involved in Osaka. With that in mind, to take Watson's victory as an indication that she has arrived as a top contender would be pushing things too far. The same as Murray wasn't there yet after winning in San Jose. For him, that was a stepping stone to the top, let's hope it works the same for Heather.

  • Comment number 9.

    @Desperate_Dan

    An extra step or two on her movement should make a big difference for Laura; and she needs to cope better with variation, which would see her handle different match-ups better and get more consistent results.

    But I think the biggest improvement for Laura to make would be to shore up her serve. Her best weapon at the moment is her return of serve. (the Clijsters match shows how it can spook opponents) It gets her out of trouble often, and gets her leads that she can't hold onto.

    Unfortunately, you see Laura limp through her service games more often than you see her power through them. If she can get that trend going into reverse, and have to serve big when in trouble 4 times a match instead of 19; she should become a monster to play against.

  • Comment number 10.

    It appears to me that the competition between Watson and Robson is very healthy... seeing someone you've grown up playing with and know you are on a similar level to performing well must give you confidence.

    In the absence of any British competition Murray will be coming up against his childhood training partenr Novak time and time again now, amazingly with hardly a consideration given to Federer... which can't be a bad thing either!

    All good stuff and great to see, I just hope some of the promising youngsters, particularly the males, manage to roll-on and make an impact on the tour over the next few years...

  • Comment number 11.

    A great year for British tennis, and the future looks bright for Aussie born Robson, Guernsey's Watson and our Scottish braveheart Murray leading the way. As for English tennis; still useless.

  • Comment number 12.

    "It was a great achievement but I think Laura Robson has more potential to further in the women's game. The lack of power in Watson's game will hamper her against top level pros."

    I wonder if this sort of comment motivates Watson? Not that I'm criticising you for making it, in fact I tend to agree that it's easier to see Robson as a top ten player than Watson, given their styles. But from Watson's perspective, she has a remarkably similar CV to the girl she is often being compared negatively to, a Junior Grand Slam tournament victory, a steady upward progress past the various ranking milestones, tour breakthroughs, etc. Even though they seem to be on friendly terms, and the comments of this type are hardly Robson's fault, it must grate. If Watson can use that irritation to make her a better player, then maybe it's a positive after all.

    As for the style, well, some counter-punchers have manged significant top ten careers in recent years. The likes of A.Radwanska, Jankovic, Wozniacki. If Watson can achieve along the lines of those players, then she will be doing quite OK.

  • Comment number 13.

    @11: There's no such thing as English tennis. Look at the WTA & ATP sites - Great Britain. And, my, isn't it scraping the bottom of barrel to bring up someone's nation of birth to find a reason to carp. Should I suppose you think that Elena & Anne weren't worthy of representing us either? Well done to all 4. The younger two have a wonderful opportunity to build on the efforts of the older. Let's hope that some of the junior men can produce the goods in the same way.

  • Comment number 14.

    I love to see Laura play as she not only hits the ball harder than the usual Brit but has the most wonderful smile when she wins. However I have a sneaking feeling that Joanna Konta could be better then either Laura or Heather. A lot depends on attitude and application over the next 3 or 4 years.

  • Comment number 15.

    To improve footwork & movement Laura should incorporate masses of shuttle runs into her training. Then when she thinks she is tired, do another set. Shuttle runs not only improve the ability to run, stop and change direction quickly but give you the deep lunge that every once in a while will help get the ball back and win a seemingly lost point.

    A few weeks training with GB badminton squad would improve her movement out of all recognition - just the speed & agility work and then back to the tennis arena for racquet & stamina training.

  • Comment number 16.

    Good blog - and its incredible that Murray becoming the first British man in a Wimbledon final in 74 years wasn't even one of your good points of the past 15 weeks!

    As for people like markyhamps75 (comment 11) saying 'English tennis is still useless' is equivalent to saying Welsh Formula 1 is useless. What does it matter? The Union flag flew above Hamilton and Button when they won their world titles, but you didn't get petty minded English people bleating that it wasn't really Wales or Scotland's triumph. Grow up, we're the United Kingdom. There's a key word in that name.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'll lay you a tenner she already does that, Dave. And that a few weeks with the GB Badminton squad would not change much at all, because it wouldn't be anything new.

    She and the people who coach her are serious dedicated professionals, working hard to improve her standard. One of their main focuses is going to be, in fact has been pubically stated as, her movement. See one of the later questions in this interview, for example:- http://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/interviews/2012-08-31/201208311346441396817.html

    So, go give her the advice if you feel like it. If it's new and helpful, I can't see why she wouldn't take it on board. But don't be too disappointed if it turns out what you are giving her is very much old hat.

  • Comment number 18.

    A brilliant result for Heather to cap off a great year for British tennis. Her win should definitely not be diminished by the absence of a big name in the final, giving the impression she strolled through the draw - she overcame the vastly experienced Anabel Medina Garrigues, as well as tough semi final against the Japanese girl Doi.

    I cannot wait to see how Watson and Robson progress next season, both have relatively few ranking points to defend until March and both are under 300 points away from being seeded at slams, a few more tournaments like the last few and they'll be well on their way! Although I have to say that I see Robson being the more promising, as she has the capability to boss points against the big names - but with the improvements Watson has made this year, particularly on her serve, she could easily do as well or better than Laura with some work in the gym.

  • Comment number 19.

    This is a question more than a statement - but does this not say something about the development of home-grown British players? I'm not sure about Robson but the article says Watson learned much of her tennis in Florida and I know Murray was schooled from an early age in Spain.

    I'll stand corrected if I'm wrong because I am by no means an expert on this matter but it would seem that our best young talent has to go abroad if it is to fulfil potential and flourish.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ah Mr Overend, at the start of this year you asked for our predictions I stated tour wins for Robson/Watson so i was very nearly right (i know that is in effect still wrong) but please do not refer back to my Slam predictions (all wrong i think I eve went with Djoko instead of Nadal for the French silly me!) any way I agree with the other posters that these 2 girls have the potential to become slam contenders in future years. I think Watson's determination may be enough to get her one of the majors in future years and Robson certainly has the shots. their weaknesses can be improved upon and there are no complete players in the women's game anyway (except Serena who is a fair wack older) so it is not quite so tough for them as the junior British boys are finding it. but yes a successful year in tennis for GB so long over due.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'm not a huge tennis fan, but this year has been excellent. It is good to see British players trying hard, very hard to win, but not only that, trying to beat each other (in the rankings), especially the women. Laura and Heather are in the best position possible, they have each other to battle against, they will not have the pressure that Andy has had being the only Brit there and so the pressure is not as intense for them, this bodes very well for the game, long may it continue

  • Comment number 22.

    I think if we could combine Heather and Laura into one player then they would easily be a top 5 player capable of Grand Slam assaults. With Laura's power and serve and Heather's Movement and anticipation of shots, then Laurther would be a force to be reckoned with.

  • Comment number 23.

    Janik17,
    I read that Laura had some fitness training from Andy Murray's team. It appeared to do her a lot of good in the US but I just hope that the longer term training they do for Laura is to improve her speed off the mark and changing direction.

    Andy's legs are now very heavy on the muscle side and though it may be OK for him in the men's game, Laura needs speed (power) in her legs not strength. Her stamina should improve naturally as she gets into her 20's. I am sure that there are professional trainers in the GB tennis world but ignoring playing ability, how many GB tennis girls/women of the last 40 years could compete physically with the world's best players in women's tennis?

    I would say none, so I do not have much confidence in the ability of the LTA to develop female athletes to the necessary physical level for top tennis. I just hope Laura is supported by a team that learned its stuff outside the UK.

  • Comment number 24.

    Great result for Heather who tends to be overshadowed by Murray & Robson.

    A greatly under estimated player, who can hopefully build on this.

  • Comment number 25.

    It's really great to see the serious papers lead with Heather's victory on their Sports Sections this morning. That's more than the BBC did in their Sports Bulletins on TV or 5Live on Sunday. It's been thrilling to follow both Laura and Heather's careers. What I love about both of them is their intelligence and humour off the court, and how they support each other. Frankly, in past years, there was a lot of jealousy amongst far less talented GB players, and some of them sounded positively dim in interviews. Not these two! They are very amusing, Laura deceptively so, as anyone who has read her Twitter will know! From her planking pics to the Gangnam Video. :D My only disappointment for her and Andy was missing out on the Mixed Doubles Gold at Wimbledon. I hope all of our players stay injury free and have great seasons next year, and thanks for all the excitement.

  • Comment number 26.

    #8 Janik17 wrote: Who now remembers how strong the San Jose Open was in 2005 (Murray's first title)?

    I thought it was 2006. And didn't he beat 2 slam champs Roddick & Hewitt to win it. That's not to denegrate Heather's acheivement at all, just to point out that they aren't comparable.

    I do strongly agree with your other comment about Heather getting motivation not from what Laura achieves as such but from how much Laura is "talked up" compared to her. It would be great if she can use that positively.

    With all these acheivements in 2012, I hope 2013 doesn't disappoint now!

  • Comment number 27.

    @ 16

    Perhaps you should read up about Tom Pryce the last Welsh Formula 1 driver, who sadly got killed in 1977 at the South African GP.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/8093574.stm

    I know the point you were making but you probably weren't even aware of Tom and his achievements in the sport. If you were then I apologise.

    By the way I supported all of the British achievements at the Olympics, and am a big F1 fan, supporting the British drivers most notably Lewis Hamilton.

    British Tennis is on the up and hopefully, more depth can be added more especially on the Mens side.

  • Comment number 28.

    There are loads of kids in Britain playing competitive tennis, that is not where the problem lies. It lies with the fact that the LTA have it so so wrong. They always have done. And lets face it, Robson, Watson and Murray are not a product of British tennis. They never went through the system here.

  • Comment number 29.

    @28 What about Tim Henman. Wasn't he a product of British Tennis. If so it would be interesting to note why he succeeded and others failed

  • Comment number 30.

    29

    So in 50 years, British men's tennis has produced Mike Sangster, Roger Taylor, John Lloyd & Tim Henman with a few semi finals and quarter finals between them. The rest don't really register on the scale. Not much return for gazillions of Wimbledon largesse thrown at the system.

    Maybe Heather, Laura & Andy are succeeding in spite of the LTA rather than because of it.

  • Comment number 31.

    I find it interesting that people constantly compare Heather Watson unfavourably to Laura Robson because her shots are not as big and she doesn't have the big serve that Laura has. Anyone who follows the WTA closely will know that the longest running No.1 of recent years is Caroline Wozniacki, not to mention Wimbledon finalist Aga Radwanska, who has been top 5 for the last year or so, and a perennial top 10er for years. Both of these players are well known for being accurate, consistent hitters but with no major weapons. There is no reason that Heather cannot be as successful as either of them.

    At the end of the day, the rankings are based on all year long results - and Heather is marginally up on Laura. Surely that proves that at present they have similar potential. They BOTH have a champion's attitude and both have an incredible ability to up their game on match point down - which is often the difference between winning and losing. That match between Heather and Sorana Cirstea earlier this year was unbelievable.

  • Comment number 32.

    depdog12 wrote:
    "What a great year of tennis and I expect next year to be even better. Just some depth in the British mens game as behind Murray there is not a lot!"

    It depends what you mean by "the British men's game"... Despite the name-check, I felt Mr Overend glossed over a little the great achievement of Jonny Marray winning in the Wimbledon mens' doubles final. British mens' doubles is actually quite healthy, with Marray, Fleming and Hutchins all within the top 30 with Skupski and Delgado not that far behind... The "Flemins" partnership in particular regularly going
    deep into ATP events. We don't seem to sing the praises of doubles tennis in this country (Watson's ranking in doubles is nearly as high as that in singles), which is odd when this is arguably the preferred format most non-professional players in this country!

  • Comment number 33.

    Nick E, you are of course correct that Wozniacki and A.Radwanska (and others) have put together successful careers with very high rankings based on a combination of athleticism and consistent hitting. What none of these players have managed, though, is to win a Grand Slam.

    The relative failures in Slams stands out like a sore thumb on Wozniacki's CV. One Slam final apperance (lost) is a poor return for a player who has been year-end world no.1 twice and had that ranking for 67 weeks total. Maybe it's a bit early to call Radwanska on this, as she has only got through to the top five this season. Even so, her record prior to this season in Slams was a bit below what one would expect from her ranking history. From the 2008 Aussie inclusive (24 events), she has that one final apperance and five quarters. So that's 18 times she has been eliminated at or before her seeding mark.
    Throw Jankovic into that list as well; 18 weeks as the world's best player, made one Slam final (lost).

    As I mentioned in a earlier comment, if Watson carves out a career comparable with those three names then it would be churlish not to deem it successful. But when it comes to actually winning majors, the recent evidence does suggest that Robson's style has a greater chance of success than Watson's. The only recent slam winner who doesn't fit the achetype of a baseline power hitter is Francesca Schiavone, and whatever Francesca might be, she is not a counter-puncher.

  • Comment number 34.

    @33 Janik17

    I agree with you that Laura is the more likely winner of a slam and that a counter puncher rarely wins the majors. And you rightly point out the failings of Wosniaki and co. however Heather has a determination in her play like that of Nadal which those other girls do not have. and I would say that has earned him at least 3 of his major victories. that is why i believe Heather could become a slam winner.

  • Comment number 35.

    The Men's and Women's games are quite different in that regard, aren't they?
    Nadal, as you say, is more of a defender and counter-attacker. As for that matter is Murray, even though he has been more offensive this year than previously, and that has coincided with his best ever results. Djokovic? His biggest strength is unbelievable defence and the ability to turn that into sudden attack. Federer isn't exactly bad on the back foot either, and has added a new shot to the sport (the 'squash shot').

    Possibly more important than anyone else beliveing in her, it seems Heather believes in herself:- http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/tennis/19961010

  • Comment number 36.

    Watson will make progress BUT... She will go mot much higher unless she does an Andy Murray and gets some muscle on her. Serve is ordinary. And she is 2 yr older than Robson who at 18 now is getting rid of some of the puppy fat she has been carrying and starting to look like she can grow in both stature and confidence. LAura will soon be overtaking and staying front of Heather I am sure. My predictions in sport are seldom far out. Jon Ove said it didnt matter one jot who she beat. It does. She hasnt taken sets off the top girls in the same way that Laura has. Thats what gives LR the nod for future success.

  • Comment number 37.

    Maria Sharapova vs. Heather Watson, career meetings;
    US Open 2011 R1, Sharapova wins 3-6 7-5 6-3
    Pan Pacific Open 2012 R2, Sharapova wins 6-7(7) 6-3 6-4

    Maria Sharapova vs. Laura Robson, career meetings;
    Wimbledon 2011 R2, Sharapova wins 7-6(4) 6-3
    Olympics 2012 R2, Sharapova wons 7-6(5) 6-3

    Sharapova is the only one of the current top five that Robson has met in her career.

  • Comment number 38.

    @37

    One thing these results do not show is the form of Maria Sharapova!
    How far did she go in each of these competitions??
    Finalist in both tournaments where she played Laura Robson!

    Maria is a great player, but highly erratic! I believe she lost to Flavia Pennetta in the US Open 2011 in the third round. Please correct me if i'm wrong?

  • Comment number 39.

    Yes, R3 for Maria in US Open '11 and QFs in the Tokyo event a few weeks back (l to Stosur).
    Maria's form was pretty decent going into the 2011 US, as she had won the Premier event in Cincinatti the previous week. She faced Watson in R1 so this seems more relevant than what happened a few days later. This summer she has been at her most consistent, her last four tournament results being Olympic R-up, US Open SF, Tokyo QFs, Beijing R-up. There is no reason to dismiss Watson's achievements in pushing Maria in those matches.

 

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