Andy Murray is a man who knows a little something about expectations. Winning the 2012 US Open made him the first British man since 1936 to win a Major Title. Having raised our hopes, he entered the 2013 Wimbledon Championships with the weight of a nation's riding on his recently bulked-up shoulders, and pulled it out of the bag - the first British man to win the Men's Wimbledon Singles Championship since Fred Perry, 77 years previously. Yet, far from being cowed by the pressures on him, he believes that expectations should be raised - not only for him, but for his compatriots.
Speaking during the 2015 French Open, he pointed out that "Winning a couple of rounds at a French Open for us, for the UK, is good but, France or Spain or the Argentinians, I don't think they look at it and would be very impressed by that." The near-constant desire to impress the French aside, The paucity of British players is not a new topic. Few would disagree with Murray's contention that "A lot of the other nations have multiple players going deep* into the Grand Slams and ultimately that's where you want to try to get to."
The average tennis fan would know Andy Murray. (The epithet they might put after his name would probably differ, but everyone's entitled to their own opinion). The average British tennis fan could probably name Heather Watson, the British women's No.1, and possibly Laura Robson, who reached the 4th round at 2013 Wimbledon. Certainly, entering this year's US Open, those were the names the British press were focusing on - Watson and Robson were the British players who were greeted by robustly-filled press rooms and column inches. And it wasn't exclusively because they are both young and attractive. Yet in the 1st Rd Watson was defeated by 7-6 7-6 by world No. 84 Lauren Davis, and Laura Robson let an early lead to Russia's Elena Vesnina 4-0 in the final set slip to a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 defeat.
For Robson, a former Wimbledon Juniors Champion who is returning to the tour after a 16-month absence with a wrist injury, the closeness of her match could be read fairly positively, her 12 double-faults notwithstanding. Watson's story was entirely different - she entered the US Open after a Wimbledon performance against Serena Williams that pushed the world No. 1 to within two points of defeat. There, in a game with no expectations and nothing to lose, Watson played with an unparalleled freedom. Yet her 1st Rd match-up against world No. 84 Lauren Davis was a different story. Here, with the expectation that she'd be in control, Watson played tighter and tighter, at one point shouting at herself: "Hit the ball with the strings!"
Leaving aside her exemplary self-coaching, Watson did her best to explain the loss: "I was thinking a lot about this match [in the build-up], thinking that it was a big opportunity, and thinking about the previous years and my results here. Maybe I thought about that maybe a bit too much...I think it was just a mix of the tension, the heat, the stress and everything together."
It seemed as though once again, Andy Murray would be carrying the hopes of a nation. (There might be a reason he doesn't smile that much). Yet, quietly, Johanna Konta, a name pretty unfamiliar even to sports journalists, made it through the 1st Rd unscathed. At that point, her 6-3, 6-0 victory over Louisa Chirico, the world No 119, was her 14th consecutive win. She followed that match with a 3-set win over ninth-seeded Muguruza, the longest women's match in United States Open history at 3 hours 23 minutes.
On Saturday, Konta became the first British qualifier to ever reach the fourth round of the US Open. She beat her second Top 20 opponent Andrea Petkovic, in what was her 16th consecutive match-win. How has Konta, who entered the tournament by winning three rounds at qualifying, managed to do what none of her female contemporaries have managed?
Konta herself credits the assistance of Juan Coto, a mental coach, who she has been working with since the end of 2014. "One of the things I've been working on with my team is enjoying the tough situations," Konta said. "There definitely hasn't been a click. I think it's just been a progression. I'd like to think I do get a little wiser as time goes on." As the expectations rise, and column inches and pressure grow, can Konta keep her head in the game? She spoke after her 3rd round win about it "being work in progress", admitting that "I'm not the calmest or the most, like, really cool person out there. Everyone knows that I can be quite, you know, bubbly and I can be quite, what's the word, the word I have always used?" ("Emotional?" A helpful journalist offered). "Well, yeah, emotional."
However, as she eyes up her 4th round match with 2-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Konta seems as calm and in-control as ever. Speaking about the match-up, Konta said: "To be honest, I feel just as I did two weeks ago. I haven't exactly grown wings or anything. I must say I'm happy with how I have been playing so far this week, but my feet are firmly on the ground. I haven't cured cancer or anything."
An excellent point from Konta, but while she's keeping things in perspective, she's already won praise from that most exacting of critics, Andy Murray. "She's obviously been on an excellent run lately and is very close [17 ranking points] to being the No1 in Britain. It shows how high she could get, which is exciting, beating two players like Petkovic and Muguruza. It suggests she has the potential to go very high if she continues on the right path. I think that's very, very exciting."
*I can't help it, that's how it's described.