The strawberries have gone from Wimbledon but Heather Watson can be cream of the crop
Wimbledon has a very different feel as Briton looks to continue her remarkable turnaround
The venue is unmistakably Wimbledon, but the All England Club had a very different feel yesterday as the world's leading players began their preparation for the start of the Olympic tournament here on Saturday.
Ivy still covers the main entrance to Centre Court, but above it there are Olympic logos and banners calling on performers to "inspire a generation". The stalls selling strawberries have been replaced by "treat huts" and the backdrops to the courts are a bold pinkish purple, while airport-style security scanners have been installed at the entrances.
Most remarkably, all the courts have been reseeded since Wimbledon finished 18 days ago. "The groundsmen here have done an unbelievable job," Andy Murray said. "I think everyone here was very concerned because they've never had to have such a quick turnaround, but the courts seem to be playing very well."
While Murray will be Britain's best hope of a medal, the host nation will be represented by a total of eight players. Heather Watson, Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha will also be playing in the singles – they will be joined by Laura Robson if there are any more withdrawals from the women's event – while there are two home pairs in the men's and women's doubles: Andy and Jamie Murray, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, Keothavong and Baltacha, and Watson and Robson. Paul Hutchins, Britain's team leader, has also applied for wild cards for two pairs in the mixed doubles.
Watson was the latest addition to the singles field following the withdrawal of Alona Bondarenko through injury. "I'm so excited," Watson said. "I was at practice yesterday and Paul came on to court and told me. I was ecstatic."
It has been a remarkable turnaround for the 20-year-old from Guernsey, who began the year struggling to recover from an ankle injury and dropped out of the world's top 100. After a summer in which she became the first British woman to play in the third round at Wimbledon for 10 years, she is now at a career-high No 67 in the world rankings and the British No 1.
"It was really tough for me with my ankle injury," Watson said. "I just wasn't enjoying my tennis and playing because I wasn't winning any matches. It was probably the worst I have been in my career. So to be here now and climbing the ladder and playing well again, I am just really happy. I could not have hoped for anything more."
Hutchins, a former British Davis Cup captain and a senior figure at the Lawn Tennis Association for more than three decades, is enthused by the quality of the home team and by the country's future prospects.
Andy Murray is world No 4 and four times a Grand Slam finalist, there have been four British women in the world's top 100 this year and there are currently eight British men in the world's top 100 in doubles – including Jonny Marray, whose Wimbledon triumph in the men's doubles came too late to earn a place in the Games. There is also a particularly promising crop of teenage boys coming through.
"The potential is very good," Hutchins said. "We've always relied, as other countries do, very much on one or two players, male and female, to fly the flag. Now I'm very, very optimistic. The transition from junior to senior is very difficult and we're trying to crack that, but I'm more optimistic now that we have some depth.
"I believe we are in an era, in the next five years or so, of having much better depth in British tennis and I'm optimistic. I realise the LTA have been optimistic before, but I really do think in the men's and the women's that we've got much better depth."
The British team spent some time in the Olympic Village earlier this week mixing with athletes from other sports. "We all had dinner in the village," Jamie Murray said. "We all sat with other members of Team GB. To be part of such a big event with so many other athletes, covering so many different sports, is unique for us. We usually just see the same faces every week."
From now onwards, however, the Britons will be based in the Wimbledon area as they concentrate on the task ahead of them. Hutchins has requested first-round matches for his team either on Sunday or late on Saturday to enable them to attend tomorrow night's opening ceremony. The draw for the tournament will be held at the All England Club this morning.
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