In the past 12 months Britain’s Liam Broady has risen more than 200 places in the world rankings, a run of form that earned him a wildcard into the main draw at Wimbledon next week. For a man who has played only two grand slam events before, each at Wimbledon, it is a huge opportunity to earn ranking points and money, the kind of cash that will help him plan for the rest of the year.
Ranked 175, just below his career-high 158, Broady has been spending most of his time at Challenger Tour level, with the odd step up into top-level events. Last September, he qualified for the ATP event in St Petersburg and reached the quarter-finals. This March he qualified for the Masters 1000 event in Miami and won a round. Almost a third of his career prize money of $426,130 has been earned in the past 18 months and a win or two at Wimbledon would move him closer to his goal of breaking through at the top level.
At 24 years old, the left-handed Broady, a gutsy competitor and good athlete, still has time to make it. But there are many players in his position, hoping for their big break. What makes Broady different is his voice. From gun control and Donald Trump, to Gaza, British politics and equal pay for women in sport, he is not afraid to make his opinion heard on social media, especially Twitter, where he has more than 18,000 followers. Though he often discusses more light-hearted issues, such as Love Island, he has a social conscience and is happy to make it known.
“I’d never put out anything that would offend anyone,” Broady says. “But I feel like some things kind of have to be said. When people put things out that are either morally wrong or offend people, I think people do need to then actually stand up and speak. I think it’s always important for people to defend other people and what’s right, in a sense. My family have always believed everyone’s equal and I’ve always been raised like that, from a very early age. My sister [the WTA player Naomi Broady] is very outspoken as well, so I probably got a bit of it from her, too.”
In an age when many sports stars are afraid to say anything controversial for fear of upsetting their sponsors or damaging their reputation, Broady is a breath of fresh air. At the Australian Open this year, Broady openly criticised Margaret Court for derogatory comments she made about the LGBT community. Billie Jean King, who called for Court’s name to be removed from the third arena at Melbourne Park, would have been proud.
Take equal pay in tennis, and the argument that men deserve more money because they play best of five sets at the slams, compared to best of three sets for the women. Broady says this misses the point.
“I know [some of] the guys say: ‘The men’s [game] generates more money in the sport, so they should get paid more … I understand that [argument] but at the same time … I feel like women tennis players are putting in as much work as the male tennis players are [and] to say they’re not is kind of stupid.
“I see what my sister’s going through, I see what the other female tennis players go through and to be honest a lot of them work probably harder than I do. It’s not just about the three sets on court – and I don’t even know if it’s true that they generate more money in the sport or not, because they’ve made as many sacrifices and put in as much work and possibly had to put up with more things in their lives than a lot of male players have, so why would they not get their fair share?”
Broady has been abused on Twitter, especially when he has lost a match and is roundly abused by gamblers who lost money. “To read stuff like that … basically [saying] horrible things about you and your family, it’s not nice. I can only imagine it’s worse for people who are of an ethnic minority or women.”
But he is not going to be deterred from speaking out. “I feel like I’ve got to put the opinions out there because at the end of the day if I can change a few people’s minds, or open a few people’s minds, then it obviously helps the situation. You can’t just sit there with your own opinions and let everyone else just carry on with what they’re [saying]. I know I can’t say I’m right or everyone else is wrong but I feel like slowly but surely, the world’s kind of coming round to a more equal point of view. Whatever can help speed that up is better.”
On the idea of a joint men’s and women’s players’ union – raised tentatively at the Australian Open this year – Broady feels it is a no-brainer. “Male and female players together have a lot more power than separate – over tournaments, over schedule, everything really. It seems pretty obvious to me.”
It is just a shame he is not ranked higher. If he were in the top 10, say, competing at the back end of grand slams, his voice would carry even more weight. “Believe me, I’m more aware of that than anyone,” Broady says with a laugh. “And I find it a little bit frustrating that there aren’t more people who speak out on it. Obviously Andy [Murray, who has spoken out about equality on many occasions] is great. I kind of understand, these guys have worked so hard to get where they are. They just want to focus on themselves … and make the best of what they’ve got. But I feel sometimes you’ve got to do something that’s bigger than yourself, bigger than sport and look out for the little guys. It’s the right thing to do. Hopefully there’ll be more and more players who are willing to do that.”
Broady believes that hard work will be rewarded. With a bit of luck, that reward could come at Wimbledon next week.