The absence of Andy Murray from the Australian Open will once again leave British hopes of winning a tennis tournament in doubt, to say the least.
Kyle Edmund has shown promise in the past in the men’s draw, reaching the semi-finals of the competition in 2018. However, Edmund’s form has declined over the last two years, and it would be a surprise to see him make an appearance in the second week of the competition; with current odds of 150/1 to succeed in the Australian Open.
Johanna Konta flies the flag in the women’s draw. She could make a deep surge into the tournament, having reached three Grand Slam semi-finals in her career, including the Australia Open in 2018. The 28-year-old is seemingly Britain’s best hope of a champion in the tournament and her price in the Australian Open betting odds at 40/1 are excellent value for the win. Given the unpredictability of women’s tennis outside of the dominant force of Serena Williams, Konta has as good a chance as any in the draw. However, the pressure will be on Konta to deliver given Britain’s lack of options elsewhere outside of the struggling Edmund and the ailing Murray in the men’s draw.
— #BrisbaneTennis (@BrisbaneTennis) January 3, 2020
It begs the question, where is the next generation of tennis players in the United Kingdom? There has been no shortage of investment by the Lawn Tennis Association, only two years ago pledging to spend up to £250m to increase participation and improve conditions and tennis courts up and down the country. One of their test sites was one not too far away from Beverley in Sheffield – where they discovered that a community approach yielded positive results – engaging people from all walks of life in the sport.
In Sheffield, there was a 54% uplift in participation due to the construction and improvement in courts in the area. Developing a hotbed of tennis talent around the United Kingdom is vital for the future of the sport. However, in Yorkshire there is immense competition from football and cricket for their pipelines for the next generation – the latter more so with World Cup winners Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Adil Rashid emerging from the region.
The United Kingdom has, historically, not been a successful breeding ground for tennis stars compared to the United States and Spain – where there are designed academies and university systems in place to produce the next generation. Even the States are struggling in the men’s game, failing to produce a Grand Slam champion since Andy Roddick, albeit Serena Williams continues to enjoy an imperious hold over the women’s side of the sport, holding current odds of 11/2 in the Australian Open.
There are no quick fixes, but the LTA have to keep tennis relevant in the country. Wimbledon does allow tennis to take centre stage for two weeks in the summer but, outside of that, football has the hold over the imagination of the public. If you ask the average person on the street – would you like to be the next Harry Kane or Andy Murray? The answer would almost certainly be Kane.
It’s a challenge, but the governing body cannot afford to give up otherwise there will be a long wait for Britain’s next Grand Slam champion. Their odds in the future will be a lot higher than the 40/1 on Konta to win the Australian Open and the 150/1 on Edmund to triumph in Melbourne. Being a British tennis player brings a sense of pressure due to the sparsity of elite talent at the top. Hopefully, in the future, there will be a plethora of talent being backed as leading contenders for all four slams.