If it is true that British players can be too soft, then James Ward is doing his best to change the image. The 24-year-old Londoner has taken on a former cage boxer as his fitness coach and yesterday recorded the best victory of his career, beating Stanislas Wawrinka, the world No 14, 7-6, 6-3 here in the second round of the Aegon Championships.
Ward, the world No 216, is the second highest-ranked Briton behind Andy Murray, but his career has stalled in the last two years. Recognising the need to improve his strength, he recently turned to Diego Visotzky, a former Argentinian cage fighter, having been introduced to him by a trainer in Spain.
"He's taught me a lot and given me a lot of discipline – and obviously I'm not going to answer him back too many times," Ward said. "If he goes in the ring and messes around, he's going to get beaten up. It's the same sort of principle on court. If you don't go in there prepared, you go down a break early on and it's tough to fight your way back."
Visotzky has never worked in tennis before. "He was walking around tournaments for a long time with all his fighting gear on, so I had to give him a lot of Fila stuff to make him try and blend in," Ward said. "He looked like he was a bodyguard. I don't need one of them just yet."
Did Ward find him scary? "A little bit," the British No 2 smiled. "You should see a picture of him." Had the Argentinian put him in a cage yet? "No, but he keeps getting me in headlocks, which isn't nice. Not too much back-chat."
The grass-court season brings the best out of Ward, who won four matches at last week's Challenger event in Nottingham. He beat a fellow British wild card, Dan Cox, in the first round here and followed it up with a polished performance against Wawrinka. The Swiss, who is Roger Federer's regular Davis Cup doubles partner, reached the fourth round at Wimbledon two years ago before losing in five sets to Murray but struggled in his season-opener on grass. Ward now meets Sam Querrey, the defending champion.
It was a good day all round for Ward after he was awarded a wild card into Wimbledon. Other wild cards went to his fellow countrymen Cox (world No 273) and Dan Evans (No 300), along with five British women: Heather Watson, whose rise to No 93 in the world rankings came too late to earn a place in the main draw, Katie O'Brien(No 216), Naomi Broady (No 231), who reached the second round of the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston yesterday by beating France's Caroline Garcia, Laura Robson (No 234) and Emily Webley-Smith (No 247). Elena Baltacha (No 74) and Anne Keothavong (No 110) were ranked high enough at the cut-off date to go straight into the main draw.
Murray came through his doubles match here last night alongside brother Jamie unscathed, though the Scots were beaten 6-3, 6-4 by Xavier Malisse and Ken Skupski. The world No 4 crosses swords again with Malisse in his opening singles match this afternoon.
Andy Roddick was relieved to win his first match for three months, beating Feliciano Lopez 7-6, 6-7, 6-4. The 28-year-old American, who pulled out of the French Open with a shoulder injury, has won the title here four times.
Federer upset the organisers of the Halle tournament, where he usually prepares for Wimbledon, by pulling out to rest. "My body, especially my groin, really needs a rest," he said.
Ralf Weber, the event director, was not impressed. "Our plans for the past year have been nearly exclusively with Roger [here]. I clearly expressed my disappointment to his management."
Wimbledon wild cards
1. Heather Watson Age 19 Ranking 93 (Highest ranking current). First Round at last year's tournament.
2. Laura Robson Age 17 Ranking 237 (Highest ranking 189, October 2010). First round last year
3. Katie O'Brien Age 25 Ranking 276 (Highest ranking 174, October 2007). Second round in 2007
4. Naomi Broady Age 21 Ranking 345 (Highest ranking 314, December 2010). First appearance in the main draw
5. Emily Webley-Smith Age 26 Rank 279 (Highest ranking 241, November 2009). Second round in 2004
1. Daniel Cox Age 20 Ranking 273 (Highest ranking 273). Debut in Wimbledon main draw
2. Daniel Evans Age 21 Ranking 602 (Highest ranking 466, February 2011). First round in 2009
3. James Ward Age 24 World No 258 (Highest ranking 240, June 2010). First round in 2009