Ward falters on the upward path

Trevor Haylett reports from Roehampton on the fall of a bright British tennis hope
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The Independent Online
Seven months ago she wore the crown of national champion, a new talent brought up in the unlikely tennis stronghold of South Shields, who was discovered thumping balls against a playground wall. Yesterday Jo Ward was back wearing rags once more, erased from the Wimbledon programme even before she had glimpsed the ivy and sniffed the strawberries and cream.

It is all hard graft and sweat just attempting to qualify for the world's greatest tournament. Difficult to get hold of a Centre Court ticket? You should try taking part. This particular field is highly exclusive and this year it cannot find room for the British title holder.

By lunchtime at Roehampton, where 64 women and more than twice that number of men are attempting to qualify, Ward discovered the brutal truth that the All England Championships would have to get along without her. She lost 6-3, 6-3 to Anca Barna of Germany. The consolation, if it can be assessed as such, was that she was not alone in her disappointment.

Little more than a week ago Belgium's Els Callens was discovering a silver lining in the grey clouds that enveloped the Beckenham event with a surprise victory in the women's singles. It helped earn her the status of No 1 seed here but it counted for little as she lost 7-6, 6-3 to Caroline Vis.

There was no time for Ward, 20 tomorrow, to dwell on her latest setback, which admittedly came against a girl higher in the rankings. A quick bite to eat, a jog around the Bank of England sports ground to lose any stiffness and then it was off to Eastbourne to compete in the Direct Line Insurance Under-21 competition.

The road to becoming a somebody on the tour is pretty relentless. She knows she is an easy target for those who dredge out those jokes about British tennis players at this time of year but she bears her predicament with stoicism.

This in spite of an enduring back injury which has proved a considerable handicap in her attempt to use the Guardian Direct National Championships as a springboard to greater things.

Scott Draper put his bad times out of the way before he had begun to make real progress. It was so bad last year that an alternative career back home in Brisbane seemed the only solution. Now, after investing in a sports psychologist, the 21-year-old Australian is looking back on a successful time at the French Open in which he reached the fourth round and trying to cope with the label of the new Rod Laver.

At Roehampton he is seeded at the top of the men's qualifying draw. His performance yesterday did not always reflect that but he did enough to win and now only one more round bars his way to the Wimbledon gates.

There was also the incentive of a possible first-round match against Andre Agassi who has to face one of the 16 qualifiers from the men's draw.

An Agassi confrontation also fills Andrew Foster's horizon. The British No 8 was alone among the home representatives to win through to the third round. Two British women live to fight another day, Mandy Wainwright and Claire Taylor.

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