The sun was shining but in most other respects the mainstream British grass-court season opened here in familiar fashion yesterday. You can always rely on a fair sprinkling of home players on the first day of the Artois Championships and you can usually expect some battling displays, even if the final results are predictable.
Alex Bogdanovic, Josh Goodall and James Ward were the Britons in singles action this time. All three lost, though Goodall and Ward could be more than satisfied. Both faced players with two Grand Slam titles to their name, Lleyton Hewitt beating Goodall 6-4, 6-4 and Marat Safin beating Ward 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Bogdanovic lost 6-3, 6-3 to Australia's Joseph Sirianni, the world No 161.
Three other Britons play today. Andy Murray, who with his partner Daniel Vallverdu beat Richard Gasquet and Nicolas Mahut in the first round of the doubles last night, meets Sébastian Grosjean, Dan Evans plays Xavier Malisse and Richard Bloomfield faces Fernando Gonzalez.
With Murray the only guaranteed starter at Wimbledon in 13 days' time, the other Britons will anxiously await an All England Club announcement today about its eight wild cards. The Lawn Tennis Association wants them to be given just to players ranked in the world's top 250, which would mean that Bogdanovic (No 243) and Jamie Baker (250), who is recovering from a serious blood infection, would be the only recipients.
Wimbledon, however, does things its own way and it would be no surprise if Goodall (269), Bloomfield (412) and Evans (988 but arguably the country's best junior) were given cards. Jamie Murray, who does not even have a singles ranking, has also asked for one.
Goodall, who served well and looked far from uncomfortable against Hewitt, said he agreed with the LTA's ranking target, while Ward (495) has been used to life without handouts. The 21-year-old Londoner, who played with great assurance in taking the first set off Safin, earned his place here by winning three rounds of qualifying and spent four years at Juan Carlos Ferrero's academy in Spain.
Did Ward, who is now based in Britain, think there was as strong a work ethic at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton as he found in Spain? "Personally I don't think so, no. A lot of people don't know what it takes to actually get to the top. I'm in the game to get to the top. I'm not in there to be around 250, just taking freebies off the LTA. That's why I decided to move to Spain."
Ward had won less than £13,000 in prize-money before this week. In defeat here he earned £2,734, while he would take home £10,250 as a first-round loser at Wimbledon. "I wrote a letter last week to the All England Club, asking them [for a wild card]," he said. "I don't think the LTA put my name forward, so I wrote to tell them who I was."