Wimbledon 2015: Gutsy Watson and Broady head to Round 2, Robson looks ahead
Andy Murray is not carrying the British flag on his own at Wimbledon this year
Andy Murray may be a former champion at his home Grand Slam, may have won Olympic gold on the same famed Wimbledon Centre Court and may, this year, have worked his way up to No2 in the rankings race, No3 in the seedings, and into ‘favourite’ conversations with fans and pundits alike after one of his best ever starts to season. But he is not carrying the British flag on his own.
In the men’s draw, he has recently been joined by 25-year-old Aljaz Bedene, a Slovenian by birth who has lived in the UK for seven years and became a British citizen in March.
Bedene also happens to be a top-100 player, ranked No75, courtesy of five Futures and nine Challenger singles titles. He began the year by reaching his first tour final in Chennai, beating two top-15 players before falling to Stan Wawrinka. He also reached the quarters in Casablanca. Now this would be his third Wimbledon, but his first as a British competitor, playing wily compaigner, Radek Stepanek.
Scan through the next 100 players, and there are four more British men, with 20-year-old Kyle Edmund hovering just shy of the top 100 at 101. He made a strong showing at Roland Garros, playing in the main draw for the first time and reaching the second round before succumbing to a stomach injury.
He also pulled a tough first-round opponent out of the hat, the unpredictable but huge talent of Alexandr Dolgopolov. As if that was not bad enough, he was wrestling both the heat and humidity and also a problem with his right shoulder. Having played strongly to reach a first-set tie-break, he lost the second 6-1 and the match, 6-2.
He would not blame the shoulder for his loss, but did talk of his thwarted efforts to break into the top 100: “Unfortunately I got the ranking when I got injured. I haven’t been able to really, really push on as much as I’d like to. Had to miss the start of the grass court season with the injury. First match out was Nottingham and now Wimbledon.
“The ranking is a number on a piece of paper. It doesn’t determine what you want to do. Me and my coach are thinking in the long term. It’s all about developing your game.”
James Ward, who almost broke the 100 barrier at the start of the year, but arrived at Wimbledon with a wild card ranked 111. His cause looked dire when the draw was made—though Ward is no stranger to upsetting the rankings when he plays in front of a home crowd. His first opponent was scheduled to be world No7 David Ferrer, but the Spaniard had to pull out with injury, giving his place to lucky loser 30-year-old Luca Vanni, ranked 113.
Brydan Klein, ranked 118 and with another wild card, played No25 seed Andreas Seppi, lately the finalist on Halle’s grass. He was very quickly down by two sets, 6-3, 6-2, and after just an hour and 20 minutes, was also out of the draw, 6-2. Should Seppi win his next match, he could meet the best that GB has to offer in Murray himself.
But already there has been success for left-handed Liam Broady, age 21, and who turned pro only last year. Currently ranked 182, he grabbed his wild card with both hands to play a thriller against the higher ranked number 138, Marinko Matosevic, coming back from two sets down to win 5-7 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-3.
For the Wimbledon junior finalist in 2011—and doubles junior champion here in 2010—it was his debut main-draw Wimbledon win. Not that things get any easier, especially with the temperatures set to soar into the 30s and five sets already in his legs: He takes on the talented Belgian No16 seed, David Goffin.
Before that, he had a chance to revel in this first victory: “After the first two sets, I wanted to give the crowd more. I managed to sneak the third set and that was the best feeling of my life. So to win the match was fantastic.
“It’s my home tournament. I’ve had good success here before. It’s been a long road to finding myself in the main draw of a Slam. Couldn’t be happier.”
In the women’s draw was another Broady, and yes, they are related: Naomi is Liam’s older sister, also playing with a wild card, but she lost the same afternoon 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 to Mariana Duque-Marino.
That Broady, ranked 200, is currently the third woman in the GB squad reflects some difficult months for British women.
At the top of the pile is Heather Watson, a former No38, owner of two titles, but now down to 59—though at the end of 2013, she was outside the top 100 after struggling with glandular fever. She won the Hobart title at the start of this year, but since then, her fortunes had fluctuated.
Things started badly here, too, playing in her sixth Wimbledon main draw. The 23-year-old struggled on serve and was broke twice to lose it, 6-1. But she came back against the 32nd seed Caroline Garcia to take the second set, 6-3, as the clock ticked to 9 o’clock. So the match had to be completed in the 30-degree heat of Tuesday afternoon.
Watson stayed on level terms for six games, 3-3, then faced repeated deuces and break points serving in the seventh. She held, but was soon serving again to save the set, and facing break points. Garcia gave her errors to reach deuce, and Watson held on. More than that, she broke and served at 6-5, but could not capitalise: But she did so at the next attempt, 8-6, for a hard-fought second-round meeting against veteran Daniela Hantuchova.
If Watson’s draw was tough, spare a thought for Johanna Konta, who after beating two big seeds in Eastbourne last week, was drawn against former Wimbledon champion and world No4, Maria Sharapova—playing on the first day, and on Centre Court. The outcome was perhaps not a surprise: Sharapova advanced, 6-2 6-2.
There was one more British woman to try her hand at a tournament she has loved and where she reached the fourth round while still a teenager in 2013.
Unfortunately, Laura Robson she was unable to play last year after suffering a major wrist injury that kept her off the tour for 18 months: Indeed she only made her return last week to fall early at Eastbourne.
But with a wild card and a protected ranking of 58, the tall left-hander hoped for better luck against Evgeniya Rodina. However, despite breaking her opponent at the start of the second set, she could not hold onto her own serve, and eventually went out, 6-4, 6-4.
But she was upbeat about what lay ahead, quite rightly. Now pain-free, still only 21, and with an enviable big game, she smiled: “It was extremely exciting. I was extremely nervous before I went on. Every time I felt like I was getting ahead in the game or I had a breakpoint, it was like the last 17 months of nerves just coming out and saying, Hi. But it was so much better than last week. Grand old age of 21—I’ve got a bit of time ahead of me. Yeah, definitely some more good years ahead.”