In 1977, a certain Virginia Wade triumphed at Wimbledon, defeating a certain Sue Barker in the semi-finals. Since then, no British female tennis player has come close to replicating such a feat (either that of winning it or being a defeated semi-finalist like Barker). The dire state of the British game is best demonstrated by the fact that only Elena Baltacha has dared to venture beyond the second round at Wimbledon in the last ten years, and just the once.
So, why are there no good British female tennis players in this era? Have we, as an island, simply been unlucky with the pool of talent that has befallen us? Or are there, as ever, a multitude of key reasons that we Brits simply refuse to acknowledge? The case is, unfortunately, the latter and many of these reasons are down to fundamental grassroots simplicities.
…young talent is often lost in Great Britain…
First off, there is a distinct lack of good quality coaching: young talent is often lost in Great Britain across the whole sporting spectrum. The British system simply does not compare to that of successful nations such as Russia and Czech Republic: this year’s Fed Cup finalists. Italy joins the two Eastern European giants to complete the top three in the world rankings, while Team GB lies in a dissatisfactory 26th.
The situation is not helped by the education system in the UK. PE is weakly enforced, and when it is, many schools don’t have the courts, equipment or expertise to provide students with the bare minimum of one hour of tennis a week. Universities, though much different, are still culprits in promoting other sports above tennis. Young British female tennis players are unlucky on two counts: the fact that tennis is not as popular in Britain as netball, football and other mainstream sports, and the fact that coaches and supporters seem to prioritise the men’s game.
…investment has been ploughed into…
Indeed, men’s tennis in Britain is faring far better than women’s. Led first by Tim Henman and then Andy Murray in recent years, team GB has been far more successful on the men’s side. This year, Great Britain won the Junior Davis Cup, suggesting a bright future for the boys of today. Recently, investment has been ploughed into the building of a new tennis centre and the recruitment of new coaches like Greg Rusedski. Now, surely, after 30+ years of hurt, the same must occur in the women’s game. Perhaps there is hope for our champion in waiting, Laura Robson, though too much pressure should not be placed onto one pair of shoulders.
Overall, the reasons why this era has failed to produce British female tennis players of any exceptional quality are clear and plentiful. To change this any time soon, a revamp of the British system and the British philosophy is needed; for once, let’s not make it the taking part that counts, but the winning.
Image courtesy of Virginia Wade