Heather Watson puts on a true Brit show on Centre Court
The green pastures of SW19 are not usually the place to find solace when, every two years, England's footballers tumble out of a tournament and the nation's sporting spotlight turns on tennis. Andy Murray aside – and he is, of course Scottish – Britain's tennis players usually make the footballers look good. Yesterday was different.
The bare facts – three defeats in four completed matches – may look as if the annual cull has begun but all five Brits involved acquitted themselves well against higher-ranked players, and Heather Watson achieved a remarkable triumph.
Watson's 6-2, 6-1 dismissal of the Czech Iveta Benesova, ranked 48 places above her, was impressive enough. What was startling is that it was the first win by a British woman on Centre Court since a Jo Durie victory in 1985.
It was Watson's debut on the show court and she said of the experience: "This is what I've been playing tennis for almost all my life. It was awesome." The Guernsey-born 20-year-old is one of three British women who earned a place in the main draw by dint of their ranking, not a wild card, the highest such representation since 1992.
Watson may yet be joined in the second round by one of the wild cards, the newly naturalised Jo Konta, who on her Grand Slam debut was holding the No 28 seed Christina McHale 7-7 in the third set when play was suspended due to bad light. Konte, a 21-year-old Hungaro-Australian who moved to England seven years ago, delighted a packed outside Court 17 with several impressive drop shots.
The third British woman playing yesterday, Naomi Brody, was less successful but a 6-4, 7-6 defeat was a creditable performance against Lourdes Dominguez Lino, who is ranked 157 above her.
Both British men in action also lost, but not without a fight. There is much interest surrounding Oliver Golding, a strapping 18-year-old from nearby Richmond who won the US Open junior title last year. Facing the Russian Igor Andreev, 93 in the world, Golding delivered a display brimful of potential that delighted a partisan crowd before his inexperience told. He romped the first set 6-1 but then lost the next two on tie-breaks, serving a double-fault on set-point in the third, and lost early in the fourth hour.
The first Brit to go out was Josh Goodall, his fifth first-round defeat in five Wimbledons. The £14,500 first-round loser's cheque offered solace to the British No 4, the world No 215 – he admits that "financially I'm not in the best state, playing Wimbledon helps a lot" – but pride and glory were clearly his motivation.
Heart and a big serve were not enough, however against Grega Zemlja, of Slovenia. The beefy Brit began with confidence, delivering a 125mph ace with his first shot and dropping just two points in his opening four service games. Then Zemlja exerted pressure, Goodall double-faulted, Zemlja broke and took the set. The usual script says Goodall should gently subside but he regained his serve and held his nerve to take the second set 6-3 and push the third into a tie-break before losing in four sets.
Goodall then pondered the direction of a career he feels shows enough possibilities to keep going, but still has his doubts . "If I was getting thrashed I could say, 'Well, I'm not good enough', but I don't feel that's the case. I could probably hang around being 200 in the world for the rest of my career, but is that what I really want?"
At 26, however, time is not on his side as it is for Watson, Konta and Golding.
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