It is never the most auspicious sign when a single point won on serve is a triumph to a Court One crowd but that is how it was when James Ward took British hopes into his match against the world No 8, Fernando Verdasco, late yesterday.
Ward's winning point in question – a 120mph ace – brought the house down and though it helped the tall British No 4 to hold his serve and click something up on the scoreboard in his name, he had already conceded four games by then. The seventh seed Verdasco collected the first three games in fewer than 10 minutes and was two sets to the good inside an hour on the way to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 win.
Ward, down at No 224 in the world rankings, did not go into the match with any great pretensions, admitting he simply needed his £10,750 payday to fund the rest of his year on the tour. But the gulf between the players revealed something of the vast desert which lies between Andy Murray and the rest, where the British men are concerned. Ward is a taxi driver's son whose father has completed the Knowledge, but the British wild card – on the SW19 grass for the first time – has not where tennis is concerned. His years between 16 and 18 were a time of struggle, dealing with tendon problems, and there were times when he wondered whether he would be able to pursue a career.
The potential was evident as Ward grew into his game against Verdasco. The first set was over in half an hour but there was a break point for the Briton at 4-3 in the second and his double-handed backhand – dependable, if not always intimidating – saw him to 5-3 before Verdasco closed out the set.
By the time Ward found some kind of parity, it was too late. The big first serve began finding court and he matched the Spaniard – a finalist on grass at Nottingham last year – game for game through the third set.
Another big passing backhand to start the eighth game and two unforced errors from Verdasco saw the Briton to two more rare break points. It was a moment spurned. A netted Ward forehand, when he might have found something better, whittled off one of the break points and a netted backhand saw the Madrileno level at 4-4.
The crowd were at home and the terms of endearment grew for "James", "Jim" and "Wardy" but when Verdasco, second to Rafael Nadal in the Spanish rankings, broke Ward yet again it was over. He served out to love, with a 140mph ace to reinforce the gulf, and hopes of British derring do to go with Laura Robson's efforts were extinguished in a minute over an hour and a half.