French Open 2014: James Ward wins through by ‘fighting like the Arsenal’

Gunners fan is first British man to get past French Open qualifiers since 1973


Six days after watching his beloved Arsenal break their own fruitless run, James Ward ended an even longer sequence of British failure on Friday. By beating Slovenia’s Blaz Rola 4-6, 6-4, 12-10 in more than three hours of fierce competition, the 27-year-old Londoner became the first British man to come through the qualifying tournament to earn a place in the main singles draw at the French Open since John Lloyd in 1973. He will be the first British man other than Andy Murray to play in the singles at Roland Garros since Tim Henman’s retirement in 2007.

Ward, who will learn his first-round opponent when the qualifiers are placed in the main draw on Saturday, had failed to win a single match in three previous attempts to qualify, but the world No 169 followed up his first-round victory over Moldova’s Radu Albot with highly creditable wins over Ryan Harrison, who has long been hailed as one of America’s most promising young talents, and Rola, the world No 94.

“I probably should have been in Paris preparing early but I couldn’t say no to the old Arsenal,” Ward said, having watched Arsène Wenger’s team beat Hull City in the FA Cup final. “It was an unbelievable day – nine years without a trophy and to be there and to experience it. To be honest, at 2-0 down after 10 minutes, I was thinking: ‘Everyone who knows I am at this game is going to absolutely slaughter me.’

“Someone said to me earlier on today: ‘Fight like the Arsenal.’ And I thought: ‘Why not?’ And it worked for me today.”

Ward was with the Arsenal players after the final. “I have friends who are very friendly with them, which is lucky,” he said. “I talk to Bacary Sagna a lot, but he’s obviously just left so I have to speak to someone else for tickets next year. If anyone out there wants to throw a few my way, then why not?”

Accomplishing a feat that he said compared with his excellent results in the Davis Cup – Ward enjoyed a crucial win against Sam Querrey that inspired Britain’s World Group victory over the United States in San Diego earlier this year – required mental as well as physical strength. The British No 3  failed to convert a match point when he led Rola 5-3 in the final set, was broken when he served for the match at 5-4 and saved two match points when trailing 7-6.

Securing a place in the main draw will also please Ward’s bank manager. First-round losers at this year’s French Open will earn €24,000 (about £19,400), an increase of more than 14 per cent on last year. Before arriving in Paris, Ward had played 12 tournaments this year, mostly on the Challenger circuit, and had won a total of just $52,900 (about £31,400) in prize money.

Considering the costs of travel (Ward has played in Australia, Hawaii, Dubai, Panama, Florida, California and several other locations this year already) and of employing a coach, it is very hard for players at his level to make ends meet. Murray is among those who have argued that Challenger and Futures tournaments should increase their prize money substantially.

“It’s very difficult because you’re paying your expenses and your coach’s,” Ward said. “You’re paying for your food, hotel and travel for two  people and if you lose in  the first round you’re  getting $300 minus tax. It’s embarrassing.”

Ward said he did not begrudge the top players their rewards – the singles champions here will earn €1.65m (£1.33m) – but added: “There shouldn’t be such a massive gap to the guy who can’t even get [free] transport leaving here, because he’s lost in the first round of qualifying. Even in the past, at the US Open you get refused entry the day after you lose. What’s that about?

“You’re in the top 200 players in the world and you have to get somebody to pick up your laundry because you left it in there the day before. Those are the sorts of things that need to change.”

Murray welcomed Ward’s success in joining him in the main draw. “What he can achieve is really up to him and how much he wants to achieve,” the world No 8 said. “If you look at his results, he’s beaten very good players. He has the form in big matches to suggest that he could be ranked 50, 60 or 70 in the world.”

Heather Watson will today attempt to become the only Briton in the women’s singles when she faces the 18-year-old Estonian Anett Kontaveit in the final round of qualifying. In yesterday’s second round Watson beat Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 4-6, 6-2,  7-5. Johanna Konta, the British No 3, went out in the third round, losing 6-7, 7-5, 6-0 to Yuliya Beygelzimer, also of Ukraine. Dan Cox lost 6-3, 7-6 to the top qualifying seed, Italian Paolo Lorenzi, in the second round.

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