WIMBLEDON, England — While Amélie Mauresmo, the French Open tournament director, said women’s tennis didn’t have as much appeal as men’s tennis right now, there was no doubt she would to be heard.
Among those who objected was a Briton named Catherine Whitaker, who delivered a scathing 10-minute, 35-second disguise of Mauresmo on an increasingly influential show, ‘The Tennis Podcast’. Whitaker was somewhere between exasperated and dismayed that a former No. 1-ranked women’s singles player would say such a thing to explain why she had men scheduled for nine of the tournament’s 10 night sessions. She called out Mauresmo for having an “unconscious bias” against some of the biggest and most famous female athletes in the world.
The next morning, a member of the Roland-Garros communications staff approached Whitaker with a proposition: Would she like to join a select group of journalists to speak with Mauresmo?
That Whitaker’s words caught the attention of Mauresmo – who would later attempt to backtrack on his comments – might have been hard to predict in 2012, when Whitaker and his boss, David Law, sat at the dining room table. eat at his parents’ house to record the first episode of their podcast.
“Maybe five people listened to it,” Law, a longtime tennis communications manager and BBC radio commentator, said in a recent interview. For years, the show stopped and started again, with episodes dropping erratically and attracting small audiences.
A decade later, “The Tennis Podcast” consistently tops Apple’s sports charts in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and Spain. It’s a favorite of gaming luminaries and commentators, such as Billie Jean King, who has listened to the entire archive, Chris Evert, Pam Shriver and Mary Carillo. In the United States, it recently ranked 40th among all sports podcasts. At times, like during the Mauresmo crisis, this is how the sport speaks to itself.
“I’m a nerd,” Carillo said in late May, just before he taped a special 10th anniversary show above main court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros. “These guys know their stuff. And they are funny. You can’t pretend to be funny.
Every sport has its handful of essential plays. Most feature hosts who have come to their podcasts with established platforms or have big media companies behind them.
Whitaker, Law and Matthew Roberts, who started as the show’s unpaid Twitter intern in 2015 while still in college, are the genre’s charming garage band that broke through, though they don’t know not why. Perhaps the tennis debate seems more appropriate with British accents? “The Tennis Podcast” has become an interesting test case for a crowded podcast market where it’s hard to grow an audience and even harder to make a living, as the three try to do.
Roberts, 26, still doesn’t know if this is a legitimate career choice.
“Maybe I’ll write some more?” he wondered one evening in Paris.
At big events like the little competition taking place here at the All England Club this week, the band will occasionally sit down with the microphones and a pint at a picnic table, albeit with a growing legion of fans, in Particularly at Wimbledon, this arrangement is becoming more problematic.
On the show (and in their lives), 48-year-old Law plays the clumsy but caring dad. It ignores most pop culture references. He often plays with Whitaker, 36, as if she were a much younger half-sister. Roberts is the wise son beyond his years, often settling their differences.
“And he can do that boring backhand jump thing,” Whitaker said of Roberts, who played junior tennis tournaments and has a degree in modern languages.
At this year’s French Open, a podcast fan nervously approached to praise Roberts.
“He’s the one they all love the most,” Law said of Roberts. “I know, because I read all the emails.”
They now earn enough to make it to every Grand Slam tournament, despite Wimbledon being something of a home game. Law, who is married with two children, recently quit his day job as communications manager for the annual grass-court tournament at the Queen’s Club in London, about 120 miles south of his home near Birmingham.
Whitaker, who lives in London, emailed Law after graduating from college telling her she was desperate to work in tennis. He hired her to help with his work with retired players on the Champions Tour.
He also liked her voice and eventually brought up the concept of a podcast. Whitaker was skeptical, but agreed.
Law was introduced to podcasts the same way many Britons did – by listening to ‘The Ricky Gervais Show’ in the mid-19s. As the medium grew, Law realized that every sport seemed to have a podcast which became The One, and quickly grabbed the title “The Tennis Podcast”.
It was a good name, he thought. “And there were no other tennis podcasts, so it was actually true,” he said.
In 2013, when the podcast was scrambling with just a few hundred weekly listeners, Whitaker got to work writing crime and punishment press releases at the Crown Prosecution Service press office. She knew within a month that despite her desire for stability, she had made a terrible mistake. It took him a year to step away and commit to the podcast, as well as a few tennis side gigs.
The business cost Law money the first four years. In 2015, he sold a small sponsorship to BNP Paribas, the French bank.
The following year, Law, Whitaker and Roberts launched the first of their annual Kickstarter campaigns, which, with subscriptions to their newsletter for £5 a month or £50 for the year, or around $6 and $61, support.
They have 3,000 subscribers and about 35,000 weekly listeners. Their success helped Whitaker get hired to host Amazon Prime’s tennis coverage.
They owe a great debt to Carillo. Five years ago, she approached Law at a tournament and asked him if he was David Law from “The Tennis Podcast.” He said he was, then found Whitaker and told him the weirdest thing had just happened to him.
Carillo spread the word. She told King, who told Evert, who told Shriver, or something. No one is certain of the order. All are now dedicated listeners. King joined the show’s hosts at Whitaker’s flat last summer for a curry and to watch European Championship football matches.
After Shriver went public with the revelation that her longtime coach Don Candy had sexually abused her as a teenager, her first interview was on “The Tennis Podcast.” Steve Simon, the head of the WTA Tour, also came to discuss the sexual abuse.
Most shows don’t have guests. The troika discusses the latest results from Estoril, Portugal, or Istanbul. They don’t care about the other’s food choices or sneaky serving abilities.
Law said years of mistakes and research have provided valuable lessons, such as the importance of releasing a new podcast every week, dropping it on a specific day (usually Monday), limiting weekly shows to around an hour and doing daily 45-minute episodes. at the Grand Slams.
Things took a little longer after Mauresmo intervened earlier this month at Roland Garros, giving Whitaker time to retire. She described Mauresmo as the product of a system “designed and maintained almost exclusively by men”, telling anyone who might believe men’s tennis was inherently more attractive than women’s tennis to “put it in the trash”.
More than five people were listening.