The day after his Australian Open nemesis exited in one of the biggest upsets in grand slam history, Andy Murray didn’t suffer the same fate.
With six-time champion Novak Djokovic out of the equation, Murray became the substantial favorite at Melbourne Park and duly cruised past Sam Querrey — the American who eliminated the Serbian at Wimbledon last year — to reach the fourth round after a 6-4 6-2 6-4 win.
For most of the last decade the sole representative from the UK, man or woman, consistently winning rounds at majors, the Scot is now getting some company.
Five British players made the second round at the Australian Open for the first time since 1987, following up from the five who appeared at the same stage of the US Open.
When Dan Evans upset 27th-seed Bernard Tomic 7-5 7-6 (2) 7-6 (3) later on Friday, two British men landed in the fourth round at a grand slam for the second straight time.
And even before the year’s first major, Evans — a supreme shot-maker who has seemingly overcome past disciplinary issues — reached a maiden final in Sydney while ninth-ranked Johanna Konta won the women’s event after reaching the 2016 Australian Open semis.
“It will be probably the best week that Britain’s had at tour level forever probably,” according to Murray.
How much credit Britain’s intermittently mocked Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) can take is up for debate.
Murray was trained by mum Judy and spent time in Spain honing his game while Sydney-born Konta’s breakthrough came with Spanish coach Esteban Carril and psychologist Juan Coto. Konta amicably parted company with Carril in late 2016, while Coto died suddenly in December at the age of 47.
Yet the situation is considerably better than when Murray was the lone ranger after succeeding sentimental favorite Tim Henman and former US Open finalist Greg Rusedski.
Kyle Edmund, who moved to England from South Africa at the age of three, is firmly part of the ATP’s Next Generation campaign, a 22-year-old ranked 46th and rising.
Even if Evans loses in the fourth round to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he is projected to climb to a career-high 45th.
“When you talk about criticism, I think that’s something we haven’t heard a lot of in the last two or three years, the last four years,” Jeremy Bates, the LTA’s head women’s coach, told CNN.
“Andy has led the way. He’s won so much, the boys have won the Davis Cup (in 2015). Now we’ve followed it up with Jo. I don’t feel there is a lot of criticism out there. I don’t think anyone who works at the LTA feels like that. It’s very positive.
“We have good structures in place. We’re supporting clubs and coaches in their own environment, we have a huge sports science structure.”
Grand slam numbers
Britain still trails other grand slam nations in elite players and Bates indeed knows work needs to be done.
Of the four, the US remains the runaway leader in top-100 players for both men and women — a benchmark for governing bodies — with 22, followed by France on 17 and Australia and Britain on six.
The population of the US at roughly 320 million is five times as much as Britain’s and weather in Florida, California and other states is conducive to year-round tennis outdoors. A cluster of tennis academies, of course, sits in Florida.
The climate in southern France — not to mention the nation’s overflowing number of tennis courts –and Australia, too, is more advantageous.
Weather, though, is only one factor and Bates wasn’t about to dwell on it when thinking ahead.
“We need to hit the conversion rate for the 16 to 20-year-olds and get them on the map,” said Bates, a former world No. 54.
“And that’s a sign of a good program when you are able to continually develop a succession of players. I think that is the big challenge but I do think it makes a difference when the players we’re supporting, they’re familiar with Andy, with Jo, they see them practice and train.
“We still need to develop the younger players who are attracted to the sport because of the best ones. And have really good coaching and programs. There’s a lot of work to be done but it’s positive.”
In an effort to get more into the sport in Scotland, the LTA and Sport Scotland are spending $20 million to double the number of covered courts from 112 to 225 in the next five to 10 years.
It was one of the last acts under Michael Downey, who resigned as the LTA’s chief executive officer earlier this month.
A larger project in Scotland, spearheaded by Murray’s hard working mum, Judy, hangs in the balance.
Her plan is to build an academy near the family’s hometown of Dunblane, though the local council initially turned down her proposal in 2015 with a final ruling expected soon.
“This is not about developing elite tennis players,” Judy Murray was quoted as saying by the Guardian in November. “This is about reaching out to all ages and backgrounds and providing accessible and low-cost coaching.
“Obviously, the more people who play tennis, the better chance there is of finding another Andy Murray, but I want to get people playing and to gift Scotland a world-class coaching facility.”
The outcome remains in the air.
What’s more concrete is this: world No. 1 Murray is no longer flying solo on tennis’ biggest stages.