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Same story, different year for Brit pack

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Tom Fordyce | 20:45 UK time, Thursday, 28 June 2012

No-one ever got rich betting on British players making the second week of Grand Slam tournaments, which was why there was something gloriously optimistic about daring to call something Brit Thursday.

The reasoning, if reckless, was simple: for the first time since 2006, five British players had made it through to the second round of Wimbledon.

Thursday would see if further miracles could be wrought in the rare summer sunshine: perhaps three players into the third round for the first time since 2002, or two women out of round two for the first time in 26 years.

It did not start well. Before many patrons had even passed through the gates of the All-England Club, Anne Keothavong had lost her first set to Italy's Sara Errani by a chastening 6-1. Half an hour later, the second set had gone the same way.

Anne Keothavong

Anne Keothavong was the first British faller on Thursday. Photo: Getty Images

This being British tennis, it came as a disappointment rather than a surprise.

With Andy Murray marching onto Centre Court for his duel with heavy-serving Ivo Karlovic at almost exactly the same time that James Ward was about to take on Mardy Fish on No.1 Court, there was still time for something uplifting to emerge.

Murray had his work cut out, but gradually began to exert control, just as most expected. Just as no-one expected, the unheralded Ward came back from a 6-3 first set loss to win the second 7-5, against a man ranked 161 places higher than him in the world.

Hope, always present in the hearts of British fans, even if latent, sprang again when Ward battled back from match point down to take the contest into a fifth set as Murray wriggled past Karlovic in their fourth-set tie-break.

On Henman Hill, the reddening fans - and they are fans on Henman Hill, rather than the more pretentious or po-faced patron - cheered and drank and whooped it up.

It couldn't last. Rankings can be wrong, but they are seldom entirely inaccurate. Fish gradually took control, slowly at first and then with growing dominance to bring the dream to an end 6-3 5-7 6-4 6-7 (3-7) 6-3.

If only Elena Baltacha had been able to take inspiration. Her straight sets defeat to fourth seed Petra Kvitova may have been predictable, but 0-6 4-6 still stung nonetheless. Murray is through.

So is Heather Watson, who if she beats Agnieszka Radwanska on Friday will be the first British woman in the last 16 since Sam Smith in 1998.

Behind them, it all looks all too familiar, all too predictable.

"We're always looking for positives and it is a positive, but it's the same old story really," says John Lloyd, former French Open finalist and Wimbledon mixed doubles champion.

"We get a win or two and we're so happy about it, but for the outlay and what we put into the game it should be normal, to be honest.

"Yes, it's nice to see British players winning some matches, but it isn't that good in the grander scheme of things. It's still not what it should be."

James Ward

James Ward went down fighting against American Mardy Fish. Photo: AFP

It's now 15 years since Britain had four players in the third round of Wimbledon. Murray, famously, owes his success as much to his mother's coaching and the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona as he does the Lawn Tennis Association.

Roger Draper has overseen a shake-up of elite development at the LTA, turning the focus from big-name coaches to home-grown talent. Leon Smith is now not only Davis Cup captain but performance director in all but name.

Has it done anything to re-write the narrative of British disappointment at Wimbledon?

"It's good to see British players picking up a few wins but they should be given the amount of investment," says Jo Durie, former world number five.

"If you go back to Virginia Wade's time or even mine - I followed after Virginia, Ann Jones and Sue Barker - we had quite a few getting through rounds.

"There's so much more media coverage than in those days that everything is hyped up so much and there's maybe more pressure on them to perform, it's harder - but the funding everyone gets now is unbelievable.

"Honestly, we hardly had anything. So where are the hundreds of them?

"The LTA's decision to switch from high-profile coaches was key for the future. There's some very good coaches out there and it's critical that we allow these coaches to have their journey with their players because how else will you learn and get to the top?

"Let's all work together. We are trying to do that. If you don't back the clubs and the club coaches, and give them incentives and motivation to produce players, we'll never improve.

"My little club in Bristol when I was 11 or 12 had loads of juniors, with a coach who was very proactive and really did his own thing. It's all about people rather than places.

"The problem is that the so-called 'success' comes in batches. We've got four women at the moment who are doing well. After them, what are we looking at?

"In the men, we're scrabbling around a bit, to be truthful. Grass is a strange surface, it's a great time for Brits to get wins - and at Wimbledon, in particular, with mega ranking points on offer - but it's what you do in the rest of the year.

"The four girls do perform in the rest of the year, which is great. But the men are nowhere near those kind of standards."

Additional reporting by David Ornstein.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    the girls capitulated (thank god for Heather Watson), Ward however fought like a Lion and in the end it was only Mardy Fish's experience that won it.

  • Comment number 2.

    Until they get into the world's top 32 the draws will be hard for them. Errani was runner up at Roland Garros, Kvitova is probably the third fave to win the tournment and defending champion its unfair to suggest that either really had a chance.
    Heather Watson next plays the thrid best player in the world and she is heavy underdog. Radwanska will not hit her off the court but I think like Errani will out think her.
    Ward played really well but I love how Fish plays an old style grass court game and he deserved the win.
    If you compare the UK with Australia we have one world class player at the moment (Murray) and they have one as well (Stouser). Asking the media not to overhype things is the probelm even bbc tennis on twitter were doing it.

  • Comment number 3.

    James Ward was brilliant end of.

    Because it isn't the Brits going out in the early rounds that bothers me; it's that they go out so easily, like their game is just a technicality for their opponent to get to the next round.

    Maybe he wasn't technically brilliant, maybe he went to sleep for a bit but he fought like hell! And you know what? I don't dislike Murray, but I'd choose to watch Wardy play over him any day of the week.

  • Comment number 4.

    As #1 pointed out, criticising Ward is extremely harsh, considering he saved match points, broke back when Fish was serving for the match and fought for every last point. I really thought he could win it when it went into a 5th set as Fish looked nackered and beaten after he messed up in the 4th.

    As for the women, did anyone really expect anything else? Baltacha was never going to beat Kvitova and tbh, I was just surprised at how close the second set was. Kvitova is very, very good on grass. Keothavong's performance against Errani was disappointing, but not surprising. Don't forget, this woman made it to a grand slam final just a few weeks ago, so I expected it.

    If Heather takes a set of Radwanska tomorrow, then I think we can consider that a successful tournament for the Brits (Minus Andy Murray, whose judgement will come later of course). Baker fought extremely well against Roddick, Golding showed huge potential v Andreev, Ward had a fantastic tournament by his standards, getting into R2 and nearly beating a Top 10 player. Goodall was disappointing but still took a set of Zemlja.

    We had three women's first round wins, plus a woman in the third round (who may even make it further). Robson came so close to a victory against a former GS champion, whilst Naomi Broady was competitive and Johanna Konta (who I admit I had never heard of prior to the tournament) nearly beat a seed.
    OK, none of them are competing for the title, but its progress considering, usually, the only Brit left in the tournament by Monday evening is Andy Murray.

    Didn't see the Murray match; too busy watching Ward's antics, but Karlovic's comments are very controversial - I can't remember anyone ever saying something like that ever before. Good to see he got through though.

    Oh, and on Nadal? No-one should be counting any chickens as far a Murray final appearance is concerned. He needs to take every match as it comes, starting with Baghdatis. Considering he's guaranteed to play one of Roddick, Nishikori, Ferrer and Del Potro in the quarters (and probably Tsonga in the semis) he needs to get through those matches first.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    #5

    Grow up.

  • Comment number 7.

    #6, I'm with #5.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hang on guys, was Ward really that good? he was playing a guy who had a heart operation recently, that's why he was knackered from start to finish.

    I've had an operation and couldn't even jog 100 yards for weeks afterwards. Surely a pro should be able to overcame any opponent with such a handicap?

    Ward not winning today in those circumstances was a huge disappointment; he had a unique opportunity to reach the third round.

    As for Anna and Elana, they're journeywomen. No shame in that, there's dozens of other pros like them. Criticising them for losing to top-ranked women is harsh, as both players clearly do not have the natural talent to develop their game further.

    Until we find another Murray, someone who does have the shots to take on top players, we'll have this same debate every year.

  • Comment number 9.

    An OK week. They all did about what was expected - good shows in a losing cause. There were one or two first round wins (which you'd expect on grass at home) but none of them really have the class once you get beyond that. Heather Watson has done well, but it is about beating the big names. Here real test is next.

    The one i can't decide on is Laura Robson. Having won the first set, 3-2 up with 3 consecutive break points to come at 0-40 she was a shoe in for a straight sets victory. She'd outplayed her opponent, and made her to look like she is - a fading player, who has great guts, but no real weapons. Then, within a blink of an eye she was a break down in the final set.

    Scared of winning? Surely not from someone who won Grand Slams as a junior. Inexperience? Despite her age this is her fourth consecutive Wimbledon as a senior. So how did she grab defeat from the jaws of victory? Her rally at the end of the 5th set was impressive - but again it is too little too late in a losing cause.

    I just don't know what to think. My gut reaction is that they just don't want it bad enough, that winning isn't everything. Despite the ridiculous comments about Andy Murray above, you can't question his desire. Heather Watson neither. Is it this then that explains why they are the only two left? I hope not, but i do wonder.

  • Comment number 10.

    @ 9, Laura Robson is an Aussie. We just claim she's British in the hope she has a good career and we can claim her as one of our own.

    As for her loss, she's got far superior shots to Schiavone (poor womans Justine henin) Robson just got outthought. Having the right shots is little good if you don't have brains on court to back it up.

    The commentators were saying Schiavone Junkballed Robson, well that's tennis! Someone who gets the coaching Robson does should be able to deal with that.

  • Comment number 11.

    @10 ... I'm so tired of hearing this Aussie stuff already, and unfortunately I suspect we're going to have to put up with it for Robson's entire career.

    Laura may have been born in Australia, but the country can claim absolutely no responsibility for whatever she may achieve in her career. She moved away from Oz to Singapore at only 18 months old, and then to England at 6 years old. She never even played tennis until she got to Britain. All of her coaching was done by the LTA.

    Laura considers herself to be a Brit, she is proud to be a Brit. She has dual nationality and would have had the option to represent Australia but she chose Britain. As far as tennis is concerned, Robson is a Brit through and through. End of story.

  • Comment number 12.

    Poor blog

  • Comment number 13.

    @11, by your logic Murray is Spanish, because he got his important coaching in Spain from the age of 15 (he left the LTA because their coaching wasn't good enough for him)

    Laura chose Britain in the same way Rusedski did, but she's still Australian. Nationality isn't important to a players career, but we still shouldn't try and pretend people are British when they're not.

  • Comment number 14.

    13 - by your logic Leyton Hewitt is British - he was born in Britain to British parents who did not emigrate to Australia until he was 4. McEnroe was born in Germany! Where you mother happened to give birth is really pretty irrelevant. Laura Robson's father is British and mother Aussie and they moved away from Australia while Laura was still a toddler. She speaks like a Brit, was brought up here and has a British father. That should be enough We constantly hear about Balacha being 'Scottish' although she was born in Eastern Europe to easten European parents.

  • Comment number 15.

    @13 Your attempt to compare Murray and Robson is laughable, which I'm sure you know... Murray decided to train in Spain for a year to hone his skills before he joined the Challenger tour. By the age of 15 he was clearly already a highly talented and promising tennis player. He also recently started training in Miami during the off-season. Does that make him American? Of course not.

    One point I will actually agree with you on is Rusedki. He is not a true Brit. He is a "defector" of sorts. He changed his allegiance from Canada to Britain at the age of 22. He grew up in Canada, he speaks with a Canadian accent. I would consider him a Canadian at heart.

    Laura is completely different. She has always considered herself to be British. She grew up here, became everything that she is today because of the surroundings she grew up in. She has British culture engrained within her. That, for me, is what defines nationality.

  • Comment number 16.

    As always we Brits are always looking for someone to blame instead of throwing everything we have into supporting our team of players . Poor Andy Murray , who is 100% British is disowned by his own because he was born and raised in Scotland , which seems to over shadow the fact that he iis a number 4 world player ...... Any other country would get behind him 100% and be proud , not sit predicting his demise before the tournament begins! Half our top players are ' not british'. Beltcha for a start , in fact we wouldn't have much of a team without our imports ( let them come , lord knows why they do ). I also think judy Murray should receive more credit , not only did she coach a world no.4 and Wimbledon doubles champion , but Baker and Beltacha ....... Our players need more of the killer instinct she's teaching , instead of the primary school attitude of " it's the taking part that matters". Is it any wonder our players don't achieve when the country and media have such a negative attitude which allows failure to be ok , because we didn't expect you to win ? Why should Murray win ? Go on Andy you can do it !!!!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Someone made a point about many of these players being hyped up beyond their capabilities. Surely you have to earn respect and reputation. Laura Robson, has potential, however, that's all it is.

    I've watched her for the last three years and it appears her game hasn't improved. It's very one dimensional. Just slamming the ball and hoping, on a percentage basis, some of her shots will remain on the court. The girl's six foot plus. Obviously, her power is not in question. What is conspicuously missing is guile and craft. Why don't her coaches work on the subtle side of her game. Get her to spend hour after hour on perfecting her back hand slice as well as honing a top spin. Why don't they advise her to make her opponents play another shot, by merely getting the ball back into play? Why don't these coaches add other required elements to her game? Then her power, added to these necessary elements, would see her progress. If i were a professional at any sport, i'd work on my weaknesses rather than my strengths?

    It's not rocket science.. just so blatantly obviously from watching her. It didn't surprise me her relinquishing a comfortable lead to Francesca Schiavone. The Italian was on the proverbial ropes, but unforced error after unforced error handed her the victory which she hardly deserved.

    Nothing personal again Laura, more a critique against the coaching system in this country. Don't they watch replays of their matches. If i were Laura's parents i'd use her funding to hire someone like John McEnroe, whose games was about artistry allied to power.

  • Comment number 18.

    Despite our own opinions I think you have to respect whichever country each player chooses to pledge their allegiance so to speak. If Robson says she is English then good enough for me.
    My only real objection is getting our terminology mixed up... post #16 "we Brits"... "supporting our team of players"... "Andy Murray , who is 100% British is disowned by his own because he was born and raised in Scotland , which seems to over shadow the fact that he iis a number 4 world player ...... Any other country would get behind him 100%" - Britain isn't a country!
    Personally, I consider myself English and do not see Scotland as any different from France or Spain - ie. non are my country of birth. That said I'm a Murray fan but stop using Britain as a convenient 'flag' to support a decent Scottish player if you're English, please!

  • Comment number 19.

    A less than average English football team are hailed as heroes and overachievers while the tennis players get derided for having achieved much better results this time.

    Talk of a media with rose tinted glasses!

    To me, winning games at the highest level is mostly about having the mental edge, the confidence & the belief. The top 10 players can beat each other any day but the top 3 are so strong mentally they produce their best with their backs to the wall.

    Our tennis players all have the game but they lack the belief for whatever reason - may be our upbringing, culture etc. Its not something you can address easily even with the best coaches in the world.

  • Comment number 20.

    cfcboy23 I do agree with you in the sense that people support him when he's doing well and then put him out to dry when he doesn't but Andy doesn't play with SCO next to his name but instead GBR. Therefore as someone from GBR I will cheer anyone who plays for GBR 'till the cows come home. If you choose to make the distinction then that's your choice, but if it's good enough for ATP and him to represent Great Britain then it's good enough for me.

  • Comment number 21.

    The sad thing with Robson is that if she had stayed in Oz she'd have had a better chance of being successful. Having moved to Britain and being coached here means she'll never be more than average. She will have also inherited the 'choke' gene that the whole of the nation is struck with.

  • Comment number 22.

    In tennis - as in football - compared to many other sporting nations on the international stage, we're just not that good.

    Why can't we just accept that and stop heaping ridiculously unrealistic and unfair expectations on the shoulders of British sportsmen and women?

  • Comment number 23.

    @20 - If you're born in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) then you are British. I was born in England. I am British. Murray was born in Scotland. he is British. We have the same nationality. Stop this petty nationalistic clap trap.

    @17 - Agreed. Robson needs some variation in her game. She won't progress by just hitting hard unless she is unerringly accurate, which she is not.

    @10 - How dare you presuem to decide what nationality Robson is. It is for her to decide who she is. Stop taking this right away from her. Pathetic comment.

    Overall the Brits have had a "better" Wimbledon than most, but far from what it should be. Here's hoping that the current crop of youngsters (Golding, Broady etc.) can step up to the plate and we can get a few more qualifying and prgressing a round or two into the tournament. Success breeds success.

  • Comment number 24.

    #6, I'm with #5

    ---

    Why on earth would you actively will someone to lose just because of their nationality? Absolutely pathetic in my opinion.
    I don't understand why the English (btw, I'm English) give Murray a hard time. I do wonder if its still because of the ridiculous reaction to his "anyone but England" comment in 2006 prior to the world cup, which was taken so much out of context its untrue.
    He's from the UK. The UK is a country. I also come from and live in the UK. So, therefore I support a player also from the UK. But even if I don't, I wouldn't will him to lose.

  • Comment number 25.

    I think it's a bit harsh to say the Brits did poorly when the 2 women they lost to are top 10 and Fish is just outside of top 10-yes he has been ill but he's clearly a class player and still was favourite to win.

    Also, I hate the argument that Britain should have more top tennis players because the LTA spend a fortune. Money doesn't equal talent, Murray is naturally a very talented player that is why he is top 5 and a slam contender.

    You don't need money to be a successful tennis nation if all you want is a high volume of decent players. Look at Russian womens tennis, the Moscow academy gets a trolley full of balls and the girls hit groundstrokes all day long. This leads to a Dementieva/Myskina player who may be flawed but definitely gets results.

    If you want slam winners then you need talent, as much as I respect both Baltacha and Keothavong for solid careers they aren't the most naturally gifted players. You can't make someone into a slam winner if there isn't that spark.

    Final rant...LTA. Britain's tennis association is called the Lawn Tennis Association. Why? Because we're obsessed with the surface that is played on for 4 weeks of the year. Focus on clay already or even hard. British tennis bods seem more bothered about tradition then just getting the job done.

  • Comment number 26.

    @18 The Olympics must be a very time consuming affair for you, deciding which members of Team GBR will get your support, based on the geographical location of their birth within Great Britain (very definitely a country...)

    Why can't we get behind our players and stay behind them? Do we imagine that Rafa is being disowned by the Spanish fans right now or he is being lampooned in the Spanish press? I think probably not as that is a lovely British trait. Our players deserve our support and thrive on it too, there is a reason they perform better on home soil, so I personally think there should be less moaning and more cheering!!

  • Comment number 27.

    #20... agreed and it is my preference but as I say Scotland means no more to me than any other country. I think Murray would probably prefer to play with Scotland next to his name... but I shouldn't second guess him.

    #23... only clap trap in your opinion. I don't subscripe to a collective nation... there's enough about England to motivate me and be proud of sir without attaching myself to Scotland, Ireland or Wales as well. However, for the record I love those countries and the people but they are just other countries in my opinion.

  • Comment number 28.

    As Scotsman I've always loathed the "anyone but England" mentality some people north of the border display. I feel that I'm Scottish first and British second (as I'd imagine most people in the other countries of Britain are) and in footballing terms there's nobody I'd rather beat than England - purely because they are our sporting rivals. That's it. In every way that matters Scotland and England are the closest of allies. And if someone competes under the Union Jack then I wholeheartedly support them. And if they happen to be Scottish? Well it merely makes me a little bit more proud of my little corner of the world, and there's nothing wrong with that.

  • Comment number 29.

    Over the years, British Tennis players, especially Tim Henman have been helped by patriotic line calling. Hawkeye has now made that more difficult, so the Brits are losing more rapidly.

 

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