Legend has it that the British were once among the most competitive tennis nations in the world. Most tennis fans cannot remember a time when players from the UK were winning tournaments on the men’s and women’s tours, not to mention Grand Slams. However, Paul Revere has ridden his last ride, and the British are no longer coming—the British have arrived.
During 2012, superstar Andy Murray has experienced a career-changing season, as have newcomers Laura Robson and Heather Watson. With Olympic medals, tournament titles and a Grand Slam in the bag, few can argue that something is going very right on the courts of the small island nation.
Heather Watson made a WTA singles final for the first time in her career at the 2012 HP Open in Japan last week. She defeated tough competitors Polona Hercog, Anabel Medina Garrigues, Pauline Parmentier and Misaki Doi. A thrilling match, lasting three hours and twelve minutes, saw Watson win her first title on the WTA tour. She also became the first black woman of British citizenship to win a title.
In the final, she saved four match points to beat Kai-Chen Chang of Chinese Taipei, displaying an impressive mental toughness and athleticism that is sure to lead her to more titles in the near future. With the win at the HP Open, Watson leaps into a top-50 ranking, overtaking compatriot Laura Robson as the British No. 1. Watson also became the first Briton to win a WTA Singles Title since Sara Gomer did in 1988. If her singles results were not impressive enough last week, she also made the doubles final in the same event with Kimiko Date-Krumm (she has previously won two WTA Tour Doubles Titles).
Currently training at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton Florida, the 20-year-old Watson also made an impressive third-round run at Wimbledon this year. The 5'7" future star is also equipped with an exuberant and charming off-court personality that transcends national pride and has garnished her legions of new fans around the world this year.
18-year-old Laura Robson may be currently best known for beating Kim Clijsters in her final professional match before retirement. The win for Robson at this year’s U.S. Open was a true passing of the guard, as Laura is definitely a future WTA champion. The 5'11" British teenager has the physical abilities to really advance her game in the coming years.
Currently ranked No. 52 on the WTA Tour, Robson also won an Olympic Silver Medal for Britain in Mixed Doubles competition. Robson was born in 1994 in Melbourne, to Australian parents. Robson and her family moved from Melbourne to Singapore, and then to the United Kingdom when she was six years old.
Laura Robson also made headlines at the 2012 Guangzhou Open (a week before Watson’s historic win) where she beat Sorana Cirstea and the then world No. 22 Zheng Jie on the way to her first WTA tour final. This was the first WTA singles final for any British woman since Jo Durie in 1990.
Robson’s Olympic partner, Andy Murray, has had the most accomplished tennis career for a British man since Fred Perry in the 1930s. Andy has consistently been a top-four player and a Grand Slam contender for almost five years. Yet, it wasn't until this summer that Murray made the jump from being a great tennis player, to being a sports icon for Britain.
Murray made his third Grand Slam Final at the Australian Open in January (losing to Novak Djokovic), before winning the 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in Men’s Singles, the Silver Medal in Mixed Doubles and the U.S. Open Championship. The Brits could not have asked for a better 2012 summer from their star player. The only thing that could make this year better for Murray, would be a win at the ATP Tour Championships in London next month.
It seems apparent that Murray’s recent successes have greatly inspired and motivated the younger players. The year 2012 has been memorable for British tennis, and has set up 2013 to be perhaps the best year ever for the blue, red and white.