Wimbledon, England. The moment Amélie Mauresmo, tournament director of the French Open, said that women’s tennis was not as popular as men’s right now, there was little doubt that she would get some serious buzz.
Among those who objected was a British woman named Katherine Whitaker, who delivered a scathing 10-minute and 35-second critique of Mauresmo on the rising Tennis Podcast show. Whitaker was somewhere between annoyed and horrified that the former No. 1 women’s singles player would say such a thing to explain why she assigned men to nine of the tournament’s 10 night sessions. She accused Mauresmo of having an “unconscious prejudice” against some of the world’s greatest and most famous female athletes.
The next morning, Whitaker was approached by a public relations officer for the French Open with a suggestion: Would she be willing to join a select group of journalists to speak to Mauresmo?
That Whitaker’s words would come to the attention of Mauresmo, who would later try to rebut her comments, was hard to foresee in 2012, when Whitaker and her boss David Low sat at the dinner table at his parents’ house to record the first episode of their podcast.
“Maybe five people were listening,” Lo, a longtime head of tennis communications and BBC radio commentator, said in a recent interview. Over the years, the show has been paused and resumed, with episodes airing irregularly and attracting a tiny audience.
A decade later, “The Tennis Podcast” regularly tops the Apple sports charts in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Spain. It’s a favorite of game luminaries and commentators such as Billie Jean King, who auditioned the entire archive, Chris Evert, Pam Shriver, and Mary Carillo. In the US, it recently ranked 40th among all sports podcasts. At certain times, such as during the Mauresmo crisis, this is how the sport talks to itself.
“I’m a nerd,” Carillo said in late May, just before the taping of a special 10th anniversary show, high above Philippe Chatrier’s main court at Roland Garros. “These guys know their stuff. And they are funny. You can’t pretend to be funny.”
Every sport has a few must-listen things. Most of the hosts who come to their podcasts are from established platforms or have large media companies behind them.
Whitaker, Lowe and Matthew Roberts, who started out as an unpaid Twitter show intern in 2015 while he was still in college, are a charming genre garage band that has broken through, though they don’t know why. Maybe tennis debate sounds more appropriate with a British accent? “The Tennis Podcast” was an interesting test case for the crowded podcast market, where it’s hard to attract an audience and even harder to make a living, as all three are trying to do.
Roberts, 26, is still unsure if this is a legitimate career choice.
“Maybe I’ll write more?” he thought one evening in Paris.
At larger events, such as the small competition here at the All England Club this week, the band will set up microphones and a pint at the picnic table from time to time, although with a growing legion of fans, especially at Wimbledon, such an arrangement becomes more problematic.
On the show (and in their lives), 48-year-old Lo plays the goofy but caring father. He knows nothing about most of the pop culture references. He often fights 36-year-old Whitaker as if she were much younger than his half-sister. Roberts serves as a wise son beyond his years, often resolving their disputes.
“And he can do those pesky jumps on the left,” Whitaker said of Roberts, who played in junior tennis tournaments and has a degree in modern languages.
At this year’s French Open, a fan of the podcast 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.”
Now they earn enough to go to all the Grand Slams, although Wimbledon is a kind of home game. Law, married with two children, recently quit his day job as public relations director for the annual grass court tournament at the Royal Club in London, about 190 miles south of his home near Birmingham.
Whitaker, who lives in London, sent Lo an e-mail after graduation saying she desperately wants to work in tennis. He hired her to help him work with retired players on the Champions Tour.
He also liked her voice and ended up bringing up the podcast concept. Whitaker was skeptical but agreed.
Lowe was introduced to podcasts in the same way that many Britons were, listening to The Ricky Gervais Show in the mid-2000s. As the medium grew, Lo realized that every sport had a podcast, which became The One and quickly became known as “The Tennis Podcast”.
Good name, he thought. “And there weren’t any other tennis podcasts, so it really was true,” he said.
In 2013, with the podcast tangled up with just a few hundred weekly listeners, Whitaker began writing crime and punishment newscasts for the Crown Prosecution Office press office. A month later, she realized that, despite her desire for stability, she had made a terrible mistake. It took her a year to leave and dedicate herself to the podcast, as well as a few extra tennis sessions.
The venture cost Low money for the first four years. In 2015, he sold a small sponsorship to French bank BNP Paribas.
The following year, Law, Whitaker and Roberts launched the first of their annual Kickstarter campaigns, which, along with a £5/month or £50/year subscription for additional content, or about $6 and $61, keeps them going.
They have 3,000 subscribers and about 35,000 weekly listeners. Their success helped Whitaker become a Tennis Reporter on Amazon Prime.
They are indebted to Carillo. Five years ago, she approached Whitaker at a tournament and asked if she was from the Tennis Podcast. Whitaker said yes, then found Law and told him that the strangest thing had just happened.
Carillo spread the word. She told King who told Evert who told Shriver or something. Nobody is sure it’s okay. Now all devoted listeners. Last summer, King joined the hosts at Whitaker’s apartment for curries and European football matches.
After Shriver went public with the revelation that her longtime coach Don Candy sexually abused her as a teenager, her first interview was on The Tennis Podcast. Steve Simon, head of the WTA Tour, also spoke about sexual harassment.
Most shows don’t have guests. The trio talk about the latest results from Estoril, Portugal or Istanbul. They mock each other’s food choices or behind-the-scenes serving abilities.
Lo said years of mistakes and research have taught valuable lessons, such as the importance of releasing a new podcast weekly, releasing it on a specific day (usually Monday), limiting weekly shows to about an hour, and creating 45-minute daily episodes. during Grand Slam tournaments.
Things took a little longer after Mauresmo interfered with it earlier this month at the French Open, which gave Whitaker just the right time for her takedown. She described Mauresmo as the product of a system “created and maintained almost exclusively by men”, and advised anyone who felt that men’s tennis was inherently more attractive than women’s tennis to “go to the trash can”.
More than five people listened.
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