When all six of Britain’s representatives lost their first round matches in the 2020 French Open singles, the inquest opened immediately.
Heather Watson was the final one to fall at the first hurdle in Paris, meaning the nation had no representatives in the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2013.
Questions were asked about the state of the sport in the country, with particular scrutiny on the depth of talent coming through the ranks.
While those concerns remain, things look rosier at the very top of the British game than most predicted in the wake of the Roland Garros debacle little over 12 months ago.
Much of the positivity going into 2022 surrounds Emma Raducanu’s stunning rise from an outstanding talent to Grand Slam champion.
There is also Cameron Norrie’s extraordinary climb to the cusp of the world’s top 10 – which few also foresaw – and signs Andy Murray might be able to compete more regularly at the very top.
Dan Evans also enjoyed a career-best season, winning his first ATP title and reaching a career-high 22nd in the rankings.
“There is a feelgood factor in British tennis at the moment,” said Anne Keothavong, Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup captain.
“On the back of Emma and Cam’s success it is a really exciting time. People are talking about tennis, people are interested in tennis and people want to play. It is great.”
Raducanu set for ‘steep’ and ‘exciting’ learning curve
Long regarded by those inside the National Tennis Centre as the next star, Raducanu has emerged as many thought she would.
Few predicted her ascent would be as swift.
After winning the US Open in only her fourth professional tournament, Raducanu has become a global star and attracted intense focus.
Already ranked British number one and inside the WTA’s top 20, the nation’s tennis fans are hoping the 19-year-old will stay there for years to come.
“How she develops in 2022 is the big question,” said Keothavong.
“She is yet to play a full year on the WTA Tour and until she really has that under her belt I think it is difficult to make any predictions.
“It is still a steep learning curve for her and she needs to make sure she is robust and fit enough to withstand the demands that being on tour brings.
“It is not only travelling week on week, but also being the target of other players so soon in her career. She’s the one who everyone wants to beat.
“But it will be so exciting to see how she develops.”
Norrie backs up his ‘big statement’
When ATP players were asked to make some predictions on the eve of the season, Norrie picked himself as the one who would have a breakout year in 2021.
“It is obviously a big statement but I back myself. Let’s see how it goes,” he said.
Not a hint of arrogance was in the Briton’s voice, only confidence his hard work would eventually pay off.
That’s exactly what happened. The 26-year-old left-hander improved every facet of his game, racking up plenty of match wins before claiming the prestigious Indian Wells title in October.
Lifting him into the world’s top 15, it also saw him become British men’s number one for the first time and win a place at the season-ending ATP Finals as an alternate.
“Cam has had an unbelievable year – that guy grafts. He is a machine and deserves every bit of success which comes his way because he puts in the work,” said Keothavong.
“He is such a dogged competitor. You’re seeing someone who has really grown in confidence.
“He has got the game which can hurt players. Probably what will be key next year is managing his schedule because he played an awful lot of matches this year.
“He will be trying to plan a smart schedule for where he is ranked and looking to peak at the bigger events.”
Norrie is also likely to be pushed by 31-year-old Evans, who was overtaken as Britain’s highest-ranked male player despite an excellent season himself.
‘Murray has a lot to be positive about’
The journey back after career-saving hip surgery in January 2019 has been, unsurprisingly, arduous and problematic for three-time Grand Slam champion Murray.
Niggling injuries, along with the pandemic, disrupted his progress. Some continue to doubt whether the 34-year-old, now 134th in the world, will ever again reach the upper echelons of the rankings.
Murray still has the belief. Encouraging wins against top-10 players Hubert Hurkacz and Jannik Sinner in recent months have demonstrated why.
Two memorable nights under the Wimbledon lights in June also proved he retains the talent and desire to earn Grand Slam victories.
“We’ve seen in some of his performances in recent months he certainly has the ability,” added Keothavong.
“The guy has a metal hip but he is still moving like a gazelle at times. Stringing wins together has been the difficulty.
“But the signs are good and I think there is a lot to be positive about with Andy.”
What about the younger players coming through?
Below the leading names, there does remain a lack of depth in the British singles ranks – particularly on the women’s side.
Aside from Raducanu and Watson, there are no other Britons inside the WTA top 100 and only one other aged 21 or under – Fran Jones – ranked in the top 400.
On the men’s side, the picture is very similar. Jack Draper, the recently-turned 20-year-old who took a set off Novak Djokovic on his Wimbledon debut in June, is the only Briton aged under 23 inside the ATP top 300.
When Watson spoke to the media shortly after losing at the 2020 French Open, she expressed her concern about future talent coming through. “I don’t see who’s next,” she said.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) rejected Watson’s concerns, with chief executive Scott Lloyd saying he had “confidence in the new group of female players coming through on our pathway”.
Keothavong speaks positively about Britain’s emerging talent and says it is important they are nurtured in “the right environment”.
She points to the potential of 16-year-old pair Eva Shaw and Ranah Stoiber, along with 12-year-old Hannah Klugman who Keothavong says is “the best in the world for her age”.
“Being in a supportive environment is key for any young player,” she added. “It provides access to good training and information and having opportunities to practice with more senior players who can accelerate their development.”
As the junior players continue to learn, Keothavong is hopeful those at the top will be able to provide further inspiration with success in 2022.
“Whether it is Andy, Emma, Cam or Dan Evans, we’ve got so many different personalities and talent in the British game.,” she said. “That certainly keeps me upbeat for the year ahead.”