Monitoring pre-Wimbledon sentiment about British Tennis
It's that time of year when many Brits start to become (briefly) interested in tennis.
But, thanks to the success of Andy Murray, Elena Baltacha and James Ward at the pre-Wimbledon warm-up tournaments, some of us are dusting off our rackets and heading down to the local rec's courts a little earlier than normal.
It's interesting to look at how these successes (Ward's victories were particularly unexpected) have affected sentiment surrounding the phrase ‘British Tennis'.
The phrase has traditionally attracted many negative connotations. Years of heavy investment has led to years of under-achievement. No British man has won Wimbledon since 1936 when champion Fred Perry won in long trousers, wielding a wooden racket.
For the period June 9th to June 15th 2011, social media monitoring tool Brandwatch collected 576 mentions of the phrase across news and social networking sites; it is a sign of how successful the period was that only three per cent of them were negative.
Brits are still hedging their bets though – burned by years of false dawns (remember John Lloyd, Buster Mottram, Jeremy Bates and Tim Henman all falling short at Wimbledon) only five per cent of the mentions were positive!
Mentions of British tennis peaked on Friday June 10th with 88 being collected by Brandwatch. This was the afternoon when Brit newcomer James Ward (ranked 216th in the world) beat defending champion Sam Querrey in the Queen's Club quarter-finals.
Duanne Jackson on Facebook said what many of us were saying: "Watching a British tennis player that isn't Murray, Henman or Rusedski. Shocked!"
Better was to come a few hours later in the day when Facebook messages such as "Two British tennis players into the semi-finals of a tournament: isn't this a sign of the apocalypse?" started clogging up the networks.
On Saturday, 11th June, armchair tennis fans were still trying to figure out their new tennis hero. Was he a baseliner or a serve and volleyer? Single handed or double-handed on the backhand wing? And more importantly who did he look like? Lisa Jane Riley on Twitter commented: "Do you not think he looks a little like a thin Alex Reid (the cage fighter ex-partner of Jordan)?"
Later in the afternoon, he was looking a little less like a winner but he still posted a highly-respectable performance during a 6-3, 7-6 defeat against world number 17 (and Muhammad Ali-look-alike) Jo Wilfried Tsonga.
Murray kept the British flag flying with a demolition job on his nemesis Andy Roddick in the other semi-final and fellow Scot Elena Baltacha reached the Ladies final at the Eastbourne event.
This might explain why The Scotsman was one of the top ten sites mentioning British Tennis during the week studied.
Both players would go on to win their final but mentions of "British tennis" had already peaked the day before: quarter-final day received 88 mentions and semi-final day just 60.
Finals day on June 12th received even fewer mentions; just 57. Perhaps understandable given that Murray's final was washed out by rain. It was good to see Ms Baltacha receive the lion's share of the mentions as she won an Eastbourne final which was switched indoors.
Murray's moment in the sun finally came on Monday June 13th as he played a couple of between-the-leg shots to win his rain-delayed final on a day when British tennis received 65 mentions.
There were several cynical social networkers who pointed out that the win might not be such a good omen for British tennis: people who win rain-delayed Queen's tournaments are often eliminated early when Wimbledon begins (the springy-haired John McEnroe in 1979 springs to mind).
Mentions of British tennis continued to climb on the Tuesday and the Wednesday as Britain continued to bask in the success of Mr Murray and the Wimbledon qualifying tournament got underway in overcast Roehampton.
So why did mentions of "British tennis" peak on quarter-final day, rather than on finals day when Murray triumphed at Queens?
This might be down to the James Ward effect – his unexpected victories surprisingly might seem to offer more hope for the overall future of British tennis than Murray's victories do.
We already know how good Murray is but the thought of another Brit breaching the top 50 might suggest a pattern of British success whereas Murray's position near the top of the tennis summit is just isolated success.
In a way, Murray's success is the exception to the rule of British tennis - Brits are expected to lose – but Ward might be challenging this rule.
Roll on Wimbledon!