The headlines of British tennis are almost always dominated by Andy Murray at the moment and rightly so. The nation is proud to have a world number one and enjoy celebrating that and everything else he has achieved in recent years. As Murray continued to please the crowds, the British women were quietly going about their business, improving all the time and gaining recognition around the world. The emergence of Johanna Konta allowed a fraction of the spotlight to be shone on the women's game here in the UK but she is not the only British woman to turn heads over the last 12-18 months.
Born in Stockport, Naomi Broady is now 26 years old and arguably played the best tennis of her career so far this year. Standing at 6ft 2 and known for her big, punishing serve, Broady has proven throughout 2016 that she can beat top 50 players and perform in the big tournaments. Her climb up the rankings has not been a quick journey like a CiCi Bellis, but rather the culmination of years of hard work finally paying off. Since 2012, her season ending singles ranking has improved every year without fail. Her arrival in the top 100 this year was not a surprise.
To understand and appreciate the Naomi Broady story, you must first learn about her background. The road to success is seldom an easy one and for Broady it ended up a much tougher road than it ever needed to be. As a highly promising youngster, she was the 2007 British under 18 girls' champion and with a credential like that to your name, expectations start to run high. Then, in 2007, came a bump in the road as, following some pictures posted to the social media site Bebo (it was a bit like Facebook for the younger readers amongst you), Broady, along with another junior player, had her funding and coaching withdrawn by the LTA.
Broady was unfairly branded a 'bad girl' of British tennis and a 'wild child' in other areas of the media. She was 17 years old and being treated by the LTA as though she was a villain who needed to be made an example of to ensure that other youngsters did not behave in a manner that they saw unfit. In 2016, pictures of footballers such as Jack Grealish or Jack Wilshere misbehaving hit newspapers and although they get a hard time from the press, the clubs stick by them and promise to help them mature. The LTA took a different approach. Broady acted like an everyday 17 year old on one occasion and was simply cut loose by the LTA regardless of her talent. There was no support network for these players and one could argue that the LTA just had no idea how to deal with modern day youngsters and so decided it was easier to discard them.
Fast forward to more modern times and Broady has gradually improved as she has moved through to her mid 20's. For me the first signs that the top 100 were a possibility for her were last year. During August and September of 2015, Broady managed to pick up 308 ranking points which saw her jump from outside the top 200 right up to 116 in the world. It was a huge two months and although the end to 2015 was relatively quiet, she made sure that 2016 started with a bang!
For the first tournament of the new year, Broady decided to enter qualifying for WTA Auckland. There was a tough field as you would expect from the events leading up to the Australian Open. As an unseeded qualifier, Broady managed to beat Laura Siegemund and Kateryna Kozlova in straight sets. The final qualifying round pitched her against the top qualifying seed, Magdalena Rybarikova who was ranked more than 40 places higher than the Brit. Broady came through in three sets and guaranteed herself a place in a WTA main draw. Not a bad way to start the year!
Ana Ivanovic, the 2nd seed and world number 16, waited in round one. Despite being ranked more than 100 places lower than her opponent, Broady beat a top 20 player for the first time in her career, 7-5 6-4. That victory still remains her best career win to date and was a huge sign to tennis fans that breaking into the WTA top 100 was a real possibility for the British number three. Broady was making headlines again and this time it was for happier reasons.
Broady eventually went out in the quarter finals to Sloane Stephens in what was a fantastic week in New Zealand. The Australian Open however was a little less fantastic for Broady as she lost in the first round of qualifying to French player, Alize Lim. Random fact: I was courtside for that match in Melbourne but unfortunately my support was not enough to help Broady progress. Between her early exit and my bad sunburn, it was an Australian Open that was unkind to those from North West England, but I digress.
The rest of 2016 saw the Brit continue on the upward trajectory that her career has been experiencing for the last four years. A $100k ITF title in Midland, USA proved to be a very successful week, not only in terms of ranking points and prize money but performance too as she lost just two sets in five matches. Victories over Sabine Lisicki, Nicole Gibbs and Olympic gold medalist, Monica Puig provided further notable scalps for Broady this year as her CV began to look even more impressive.
With a current singles ranking of 90 and a doubles ranking of 64, Broady is proving her quality in both variations of the game. As she approaches her 27th birthday, I have often been of the opinion that the women peak younger than the men in tennis but there are always exceptions to the rule. This is exactly what Broady seems to be. The dedication is unquestionable and her desire to succeed is obvious. It would have been all too easy to give up at 17 years old with no LTA funding and a tarnished reputation but that is just not who she is.
Just how far Broady can go is anyone's guess. I have watched her play in events both live and on television and when she is firing on all cylinders, she is more than capable of beating top 20 players, as her victory over Ivanovic would prove. Her route to the top 100 has been unconventional with the lack of LTA funding and only reaching the top 100 for the first time at age 26, but it is this route that makes her a dangerous player. Broady is a player who has worked hard year after year with a lot less support than many others around her. If anybody thinks she will give up her top 100 place without a fight, they are dreaming.
The next two years will be huge and the 2017 goal for Broady must be to get as close to the top 50 as possible and maybe even crack it. She will no doubt hope for good showings at the Grand Slam events as she has never been further than round two in any of them. A couple of ventures into round three or four this year could prove very lucrative for her ranking. She may also have eyes on becoming the British number two as Heather Watson is well within her sights following a disappointing second half of 2016 and 280 ranking points to defend in late February following her WTA Monterrey title win earlier this year. There is plenty to play for in 2017 it would seem.
Naomi Broady carries with her a fascinating story of a player who truly has been forced to take the hard road. Whatever peoples opinion on 2007, it is all in the past now and what we have today is a top 100 player in both singles and doubles who is continuing to look up the rankings rather than over her shoulder. After overcoming various setbacks and remaining dedicated, Broady is in the big leagues now and that is exactly where she belongs.
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