Home fans have grown accustomed to having one of the best players in the world in their corner since Andy Murray first played at Wimbledon 10 years ago, at just 18 years of age. And from that very first appearance, he has not fallen short of the third round. In taking on No25 seed Andreas Seppi on Centre Court on another glorious hot day in SW19, he aimed to reach the fourth-round—as he has done ever since 2006.
His chances were more than good, too, even though the 31-year-old Italian was on something of a resurgence, up from 45 at the start of the year to a current 27, and reaching the finals on Halle’s grass a fortnight ago at just the time Murray was winning at Queen’s. But the Briton had beaten Seppi in the last six of their seven matches without dropping a set, and Murray was undoubtedly one of form players of the year, at No2 in the race and with 43 match-wins for the season— precisely the same as Novak Djokovic.
Should Murray beat Seppi, and then Ivo Karlovic, it then became, in theory at least, possible for him to face another British man: James Ward.
The world No111 enjoyed one big helping of luck at the start of this year’s Wimbledon. With a wild card, he was drawn against the formidable world No7 David Ferrer, but at the last minute, the bustling Spaniard pulled out with injury to be replaced by a lucky loser, Luca Vanni—a man ranked two places lower than the Briton—and Ward took his chance with both hands.
Not only did he beat the Italian, he went on to beat the altogether tougher Jiri Vesely, who at the age of 21 is ranked 45. It took Ward into the third round for the first time not just here but at any Major, and also into the top 100 for the first time.
Now Ward had a real chance of making it into the fourth round, and possibly as high as 81, when he took on the big, talented Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The 25-year-old hit a high of 25 just over a year ago, but a succession of injuries had knocked him back—though with Jack Sock, he made a big impact by winning the Wimbledon doubles title last summer.
It would mean Ward winning three straight tour-level matches for just the second time in his career, but if there is one thing Ward has proven in a fluctuating career, it is that he rises to the big occasion.
Take the Davis Cup, where he imprinted his name on British fans not once but twice, last year and this, by winning his rubber against first Sam Querrey and, this year, against John Isner 15-13 in the fifth set.
Such occasions had clearly developed the team spirit between members of the GB squad, not least for Ward and Murray, who together had taken the nation to the World Group quarters for the second year in a row. Both men talked about that growing teamwork before their matches.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with [James] over the last 12, 18 months really. We’ve done a few training blocks together. He stayed with me in Miami a few times. I watch a lot of his matches online when he’s playing Challengers and stuff. I kind of let him know what I thought about the match, anything like that, see if I can help in any way.
“But I’m not just doing it to say I want to help them, I’m doing it because I’m friends with them, I get on well with them, they’re people I like. I genuinely care whether they win or lose the matches.”
“It’s always a good help spending time with him at Davis Cup and off season as well, which I’ve been lucky enough to do. Good habits rub off on you if you spend enough time around someone. He’s been a big help to me and I’m grateful for that.”
They would play to different crowds but with the same intent and with the same vocal support. Unfortunately, it would be with different outcomes.
Ward was first up, and after losing the first set, 4-6, came back strongly to win the next two sets, 6-3, 6-2. But Pospisil was clearly feeling confident from his second-round defeat of No30 seed Fabio Fognini, his first victory over a seed at a Grand Slam. He levelled in the fourth, 6-3, and then they embarked on the longest set of the match, all square as far as 6-6. Pospisil broke and went on the offensive one last time with two fine net finishes—all his doubles expertise coming to the fore—to take the match 8-6.
It took Pospisil into the fourth round of what he called “my favourite tournament” for the first time, where he will meet Viktor Troicki.
Murray looked as though his progress to the second week would be seamless after he broke twice to take the opening set 6-2 against Seppi, and did just the same in the second set, again 6-2. He had made more winners, more points off his first serve, and fewer errors, but that counted for little when Seppi came back at him after a medical time out at 2-1 and broke.
In a wayward passage of play from Murray filled with errors, Seppi broke again., and even faced with a break-back point, Seppi fired off two great overheads to hold for the set, 6-1.
Things took a further turn at the start of the fourth set, as Seppi fired a forehand winner down the line to break Murray in the opening game, and now it was Murray who called the trainer to treat his right shoulder. And it worked a treat.
Murray halted the run of six straight games by Seppi and, in a complete reversal of the third set, reeled off six straight games, the set and match, 6-1, after 2hrs 8min.
He did not need to confirm it—he closed out the match with two aces and two winning serves—but afterwards he said the shoulder was fine. It had cooled down during Seppi’s time-out, stiffened up, and needed attention.
Now though, he could not stop smiling—beaming even—as he took the cheers of an ecstatic crowd.
Murray continues to play the aggressive, all court tennis that has evolved apace during this season, and it is paying off in spades. He intends to do more of the same, though admitted that against the ace-machine Karlovic, he will have play a strong return game as well. But then that has always been one of his fortes.
So expect his eighth quarter-final in a row at this, his local Club. It will be a major surprise if he disappoints.
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