Wimbledon 2015: Victory points to greater ambition for James Ward

Ward just one of three Brits left standing

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The Independent Online

It was a portrait of life in the shadows of tennis we witnessed as James Ward set off towards the kind of victory which those who know his game have believed – to the point of frustration – that he should be accomplishing far more often.

The arena was half-empty because Andy Murray was opening play over on Court One and only when that national occasion was done and dusted did they come trooping across to No 2 Court with their partisan spirits and a chant – “Let’s go, Wardy, let’s go!” – borrowed from the ubiquitous Aussie army.

That helped, because Ward was struggling for some ignition in the fourth set against the giant Czech Jiri Vesely at the time. The rewards of his ensuing victory – which secured Ward a Grand Slam third-round place for the first time in his career – include a greater British contingent at that stage than we have seen for years. Not since Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and Elena Baltacha progressed together in 2002 have three Britons planted a flag in the round of 32.

For Ward, the benefit goes way beyond the usual 60 seconds of fame which accompanies success at Wimbledon for a Briton with a name which is not “Murray”. At the age of 28, he will now finally break into the world’s top 100 for the first time, with a ranking somewhere close to 90: even higher if he wins his fourth-round tie against Canadian Vasek Pospisil tomorrow. That 90 is the magic number in the men’s tennis world order, bringing access to something bigger and better than the obscure Challenger tournaments, below the main tour, with their minimal ranking points and modest winnings.

Ward’s nine-year struggle amid the flotsam and jetsam – calling a flat in London’s Euston home; catching a bus from a run-down hotel to a Challenger tournament in Brazil where his earnings for a first-round exit were just £24 – left him disinclined to make too much of a song and dance about his latest win. He bit on a football metaphor put to him, agreeing that beating Pospisil would be like Arsenal winning next season’s Premier League. “And after that, we start thinking about Champions League finals, but let’s think about Saturday first…” Yet he was otherwise keeping it low key.

There are plenty of people in British tennis who think this modesty is unnecessary. The level of Ward’s performance against 6ft 6in Vesely reflects his time with Murray at training camps in Miami and Dubai, where the workload is eyewatering. Now, Murray does not ask every player to join him at his Florida base. You’re held in his esteem if you get the invitation.

Murray made no bones about luck having favoured Ward at these championships, by dint of the world No 7 David Ferrer – his initial first-round opponent – pulling out with an elbow injury. But in his discussion of whether Ward has the ability to go this far in future Grand Slams, Murray hinted at the widely held belief that he should be converting one-off results in the Davis Cup into consistency on the Tour. For Ward to have accomplished a marathon five-set victory over 17th-ranked American John Isner in Great Britain’s Davis Cup tie against the US earlier this year and then sunk into a recent run of first-round defeats has mystified many.

“That’s the challenge for him,” Murray said. “It’s [to be] playing at the level that he should be playing on a more consistent basis. He’s had some terrific results in Davis Cup. Obviously, here he has played well in big matches on big courts. But you earn the right to do that throughout the course of the year. I mean, my hope is that he can play well  at this level all of the time.”

Ward has a tendency to blame injuries for setbacks a little too often, though the timing of this victory revealed very real courage because the walls have been closing in on him. The adoptive Briton Aljaz Bedene has pushed him out in the British rankings, with Kyle Edmund’s emergence even relegating him to fourth. Ward’s place in next month’s Davis Cup semi-final against France has been under question – until this.

He has not been inclined, like some, to criticise the recruitment from Slovenia of Bedene, who lost to Viktor Troiki in four sets last night. Neither did he question the LTA’s decision to provide less direct funding to players outside the top 150, which brings new pressures to competitors like him. “There’s a lot of foreigners who are losing money as well,” he said. “It’s no secret that the money is not great in tennis. It’s in Grand Slams where you need to do well and you earn money.”

He certainly earned his guaranteed £127,000 pay cheque. Having eased to a one-set lead, the pips squeaked for him in the second. He spurned seven break points in two games and was sent into a tie-break, which he won. His game deserted him in the third set and he defended three break points in a pivotal fourth-set service game before an unbridled yell accompanied victory. That visceral reaction “was tough to explain”, he said. “A lot of relief and obviously very, very happy I’ve reached the third round for the first time. Yeah, onwards and upwards…”

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BRIT WATCH

Men

Andy Murray IN

Plays A Seppi in third rd 

James Ward IN

Plays V Pospisil in third rd

Kyle Edmund OUT

Lost to A Dolgopolov in first rd

Brydan Klein OUT

Lost to A Seppi in first rd

Liam Broady OUT

Lost to D Goffin in second rd

Aljaz Bedene OUT

Lost to V Troicki in second rd

Women

Heather Watson IN

Plays S Williams in third rd

Naomi Broady OUT

Lost to M Duque in first rd

Johanna Konta OUT

Lost to M Sharapova in first rd

Laura RobsonOUT

Lost to E Rodina in first rd

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