After the disappointment of losing the top-ranked British man Kyle Edmund and then the ever-popular Heather Watson in Wednesday’s second-round schedule, all eyes turned to the top-ranked British woman, No19 seed Johanna Konta, and a clutch of unseeded players to keep home hopes on the burner.
Konta, seeded 19, was here from her best-ever run at the French Open the semi-finals, and has always performed well on grass, though she did not arrive at Wimbledon with as many wins on the home turf as usual.
However, she was a semi-finalist at her home Major two years ago, and after a dip in confidence last year, a season in which she won just two Major matches, she was clearly in a good place again, relaxed and happy and revelling in her home environment.
She fought well to beat a tricky first-round opponent in Ana Bogdan, 7-5, 6-2, which set a meet with the super-fit 23-year-old Czech, ranked 38. And Konta dominated from the start to break and take the first set, 6-3. With just an hour and 12 minutes on the board, she concluded business, 6-4, to set a considerably more demanding test against Sloane Stephens, ranked No9.
The American, a former US Open champion, has spent just two hours on court in winning her first two matches, but Konta has played her three times this year and beaten her every time. This will be their first on grass: It could be a thriller
Dan Evans was ranked 192 at the start of the year, but went on a tear to reach the final in Delray Beach, and once he hit the grass, he could hardly stop winning.
With a new-found dedication to his sport after an enforced year’s absence, his crowd-pleasing single-handed game, full of variety, touch and net play, was soon wowing fans again as he won back-to-back Challengers in Surbiton and Nottingham. He then won a fine opening match here against Federico Delbonis, ranked 75, in a three-setter during which Evans was never broken, and completed the victory with 42 winners to just 20 errors, and 25 points won from 34 net charges.
The fans love the 29-year-old’s all-court skills, and he also used them to great effect against the altogether tougher No18 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, who beat another Brit, James Ward, in a thrilling five-set tussle after the Briton had taken the first two sets.
Evans was looking eager, aggressive, and confident, and the crowd was certainly on his side. He drew on their support enthusiastically after some initial nerves on both sides of the net, and broke for a 4-3 lead, held, and broke again, 6-3.
And it took him no time to take the advantage in the next set, too, breaking in the second game, and jogging to his chair with clenched fist, 3-0. Indeed the entire set was even more convincing, as Evans shouted himself on, pumped his fist, bristled with energy. He broke to take a 3-0 lead, and as before, broke to take the set, 6-2.
He blinked only once, and that was after again taking a 3-0 lead, and earning two match points on the Basilashvili serve at 5-3. Evans could not convert, and the reinvigorated Georgian began to fire winners from all parts of the court, and cancelled out what had been Evans’ highly effective sliced backhands.
Basilashvili broke to level, 5-5 and took it to a tie-break. But once there, Evans lifted his level again, and afterwards thanked the crowd for their encouragement on every point. He served it out, 7-6(2), after almost two and a half hours, to reach the third round.
It proved to be a highly emotional win, which he afterwards explained:
“A lot of my friends were here, people who have helped me so much. I don’t know, just got the better of me today. There’s plenty more tennis to be played in this tournament, so I won’t be resting on that win… Obviously just want to do well. It was a goal to be in the main draw here. I did that—I missed out the last few years. To be into the third round is great for me. That was all really.”
Though he will not play the scheduled seed next, after former finalist, No13 Marin Cilic, continued his 2019 struggles with a loss to Joao Sousa, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Evans’ victory followed another for the 22-year-old Harriet Dart, who until this week had never won back-to-back tour-level matches. Ranked 121, she began the week with a comeback win over Christine McHale, and was now up against Beatriz Haddad Maia, who had stunned 2017 champion Garbine Muguruza in the first round.
Dart broke early, but the Brazilian levelled at 5-5 and they went to a tie-break, which the Briton edged, 7-6(4).
There was no sign of the nerves that had gripped Dart in the first set of her opening match—after all, the Duchess of Cambridge had been sitting courtside to support her. This time, though, Dart grew frustrated with her own tennis in the second set, and her loss of focus offered up the break and subsequently the set, 6-3, to Haddad Maia.
However, the Briton bounced back, broke early in the third, and then watched her heavy-legged opponent seek physio for her left hip. Dart did not drop another game, sweeping past the hindered Brazilian, 6-1.
The youngster was delighted with her mental as much as her physical fortitude:
“I think mentally I’m improving all the time. I think I’m a very fiery type of competitor. I’m such a fighter. I think sometimes my emotions might get the better of me [but] it’s really important that I regrouped and was able to come out on top.
“I think I’m just learning from all these experiences. Everything is still pretty new for me. This is my second Wimbledon. I’m still finding my feet. I’m definitely proving that my tennis is right up there, doing the best that I can.
“I’m just so happy to win and so relieved all at the same time. Yeah, I’m just stoked to be in the third round.”
That next match doesn’t come any tougher: It will be against world No1 Ashleigh Barty, who continues her serene progress with victory over Alison van Uytvanck, 6-1, 6-3, in under an hour.
However, Cameron Norrie lost to No8 seed Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-4, 6-0, and he was followed out of the draw by the fast-rising 20-year-old Brit, Jay Clarke, though he certainly rose to the occasion after scoring his first Major match-win in the first round over Noah Rubin.
Clarke played the eight-time former champion and No2 seed Roger Federer on Court 1, and tested the Swiss in the second set, though was unable to break through some great serving. Come the tie-break, Clarke got the first point against serve but could manage only one more point, as the attacking Federer raced through to seal it with an ace.
The Swiss, who dropped only four points on his first serve in the match, broke to take the match after an hour and 36 minutes, 6-1, 7-6(3), 6-2, with 46 winners to 25 errors.
Andy Murray would make his eagerly anticipated return to Wimbledon on Court 1 after Serena Williams completed a comeback win over teenager Kava Juvan, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Murray made his competitive return to tennis by winning the Queen’s doubles title last week with Feliciano Lopez. He has also announced that he will play mixed doubles at Wimbledon with Williams.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge