While Amélie Mauresmo, the director of the French Open, said that women’s tennis was not as attractive as men’s tennis now, there was little doubt that she was going to get an earring.
Among the protesters was a British woman named Catherine Whitaker, who performed 10 minutes and 35 seconds of dress by Mauresmo in an increasingly influential episode, “The Tennis Podcast”. Whitaker was somewhere in between annoyed and shocked that a former player in the women’s singles in No. 1 would say such a thing to explain why she had ordered men in nine of the 10 night rounds of the tournament. She called Mauresmo a “conscious bias” against some of the world’s greatest and most famous women athletes.
The next morning, a member of the telecommunications staff member of the French Open called Whitaker with a suggestion: Would she join a select group of journalists to talk to Mauresmo?
That Whitaker’s words had caught Mauresmo’s attention – who would later try to reverse her comments – could have been difficult to foresee in 2012, when Whitaker and her boss, David Law, sat at the dining room table at their parents’ home. record the first episode of their broadcast.
“Maybe five people listened to it,” Law, who has long been the head of tennis communications and a BBC broadcaster, said in a recent interview. For many years the show stopped and started again, the number of shows decreased irregularly and attracted a small audience.
A decade later, “The Tennis Podcast” regularly topped Apple’s charts in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Spain. It’s a favorite of the game’s 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 was recently ranked 40th in sports podcasts. At certain moments, such as during the Mauresmo crisis, this is how the sport speaks to itself.
“I’m a nerd,” Carillo said in late May, just before filming a special 10-year-old show just above the main course, Philippe Chatrier, at Roland Garros. “These guys know their stuff. And they’re funny. You can not fake funny. “
Every sport has its handful of things to listen to. Most have hosts who came to their broadcasts with a well-established platform or have large media companies behind them.
Whitaker, Law, and Matthew Roberts, who started as the show’s Twitter student in 2015 while still in college, are a charming garage band of the genre that broke through, though they do not know why. Maybe a tennis discussion just sounds more correct with a British accent? “The Tennis Podcast” has become an interesting test case for a crowded podcast market where it is difficult to develop an audience and even harder to survive, as the three of them are trying to do.
Roberts, 26, is still unsure whether this is a legitimate career choice.
“Maybe I’m writing something more?” he wondered one evening in Paris.
At big events like the small competition taking place here at the All England Club this week, the group will occasionally line up with microphones and liters at the picnic table, though with a growing troop of fans, especially at Wimbledon, that is the arrangement. become more difficult.
In the episode (and in their lives), 48-year-old Law plays the ugly but thoughtful father. He has no idea about most references in pop culture. He often digs into Whitaker, 36, as if she were a much younger step-sister. Roberts serves as his wise-front-year-old son, often resolving their disputes.
“And he can do this annoying, bouncy backhand thing,” Whitaker said of Roberts, who played a junior tennis tournament and has a degree in modern languages.
At this year’s French Open, a fan of the radio station went on a rampage to praise Roberts.
“He’s the one they like best,” Law said of Roberts. “I know, because I read all the e-mails.”
They now earn enough to travel to all the Grand Slam tournaments, although Wimbledon is a kind of home game. Law, who is married and has two children, recently quit her day job as communications manager for the annual Queen’s Club London, about 120 miles south of her home near Birmingham.
Whitaker, who lives in London, sent Law an e-mail after graduating from college telling him 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 came up with the idea of a podcast. Whitaker was skeptical, but went along.
Law became acquainted with broadcasting in the same way that many Britons did – listening to “The Ricky Gervais Show” in his middle age. As the medium expanded, Law realized that each sport seemed to have a podcast that became The One and quickly earned the title “The Tennis Podcast”.
That was a good name, he thought. “And there were no other tennis podcasts, so that was really true,” he said.
In 2013, when the podcast got mixed up with only a few hundred weekly listeners, Whitaker began writing crime reports and punishments at the State Attorney’s Press Office. She knew within a month that despite her desire for stability, she had made a terrible mistake. It took her a year to walk away and commit to the radio, as well as some side tennis concerts.
The initiative cost Law money for the first four years. In 2015, he sold a small grant to BNP Paribas, the French bank.
The following year, Law, Whitaker, and Roberts launched their first annual Kickstarter campaign, which, along with subscriptions to supplements for £ 5 a month or £ 50 a year, or about $ 6 and $ 61, sustain them.
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 lot to Carillo. Five years ago, she approached Whitaker and asked her if she was from The Tennis Podcast. Whitaker said he was, then found Law and told him the strangest thing had happened.
Carillo spread the message. She told King, who told Evert, who said Shriver or something. No one is sure of the order. Everyone is now a healthy listener. King joined the show’s executives at Whitaker’s apartment last summer to curry and watch the European Football Championship.
After Shriver made public the revelation that her coach, Don Candy, who has long sexually abused her as a teenager, was her first interview on The Tennis Podcast. Steve Simon, head of the WTA tournament series, also came to discuss sexual violence.
Most shows have no guests. The trio talk about the latest results from Estoril, in Portugal or Istanbul. They make fun of each other’s food choices or poor serving skills.
Law said many years of mistakes and research have provided valuable lessons, such as the importance of releasing a new weekly broadcast, releasing it on a specific day (usually Monday), limiting weekly episodes to about an hour, and doing 45-minute daily episodes. at the big tournament.
Things went a little further after Mauresmo took part in it earlier this month at the French Open, which allowed Whitaker just in time for her dismissal. She described Mauresmo as a product of a system “designed and maintained almost exclusively by men,” telling anyone who could believe that men’s tennis was inherently more attractive than women’s tennis to “go to the trash.”
Far more than five people were listening.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.