Simon Reed

Ward’s Wimbledon heroics vital for career

Simon Reed

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James Ward after winning his first-round match at Wimbledon 2012

James Ward raised more than a few eyebrows with his thrilling five-set win over Spaniard Pablo Andujar, not least because a lot of British fans had marked his Queen's run last year as a one-off. The British number two, ranked 173rd in the world, overcame the world number 36 from Spain after trailing twice in an epic encounter.

While it will be chalked up as some scalp for Ward — comfortably his biggest victory in terms of context, and his first in a Grand Slam main draw — the Londoner will have known that he absolutely had to win this match.

Last year at Queen's, Ward surprised everyone by reaching the semi-finals, beating Stanislas Wawrinka and Sam Querrey before holding his own in a defeat by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. That surprise was accompanied by a surge in the rankings and talk of moving into the top 100.

And while initially he did progress - there were a couple of wins on the Challenger circuit and qualification for the Australian Open - he has stalled somewhat this season: while he did win a Futures event in Taiwan, he has only managed to get to one Challenger quarter-final and had lost all his Tour matches before Tuesday.

His relative failure at this summer's Queen's cost him dearly too as, after exiting at the first round, he was unable to defend all those ranking points he had accumulated. At the age of 25, there was a serious risk that he could slide out of the top 200 and fall away altogether.

So to move into the second round is a major boost to his career, and a timely one. He will rise to just outside the top 150, get a few more invitations and favourable draws in the minor events, and will be just one good run away from the top 100. Based on his talent, that is where he should be.

From this point on anything else is a bonus. Tenth seed Mardy Fish should, in theory, make light work of Ward, but then again the same was said of Wawrinka at Queen's last season.

Ward's win was one of several for British players on Tuesday, with Anne Keothavong cruising to an expected victory over Laura Pous, expected because of Keothavong's higher ranking and a partisan Wimbledon crowd. It was a bit tougher for Elena Baltacha though, as she needed three sets and an injury to opponent Karin Knapp to progress.

Much like for Ward, it was a crucial win for Baltacha, who has been on the slide recently. She is hovering outside the top 100 and this win will push her just inside, allowing her to enter the main draw of the US Open and re-establish herself as a force in British women's tennis.

Laura Robson also emerges with great credit, despite her defeat to Francesca Schiavone. Any criticism of Robson in this particular match is unfounded: she had an incredible opening set against the experienced, powerful 2010 French Open champion, but the Italian is one of the best fighters in the business and she launched a comeback like only she can.

You could see how much it meant to Schiavone afterwards, she knew she had been in a brawl. Robson must take heart from this win, and somehow try to harness her potential into wins on the circuit.

But obviously the big win for the women was Heather Watson on Monday — to have three Brits in the second round of the women's draw is very pleasing, and if one can get through it will be a great achievement.

I'm focusing on the Brits today because, unlike Monday, there were no major surprises on day two aside from Ward's victory.

Andy Murray certainly entertained the crowd with his win, but Nikolay Davydenko is a busted flush and out of his depth against the top players now; Rafael Nadal was the least convincing of the men's top four, but he'll build on his scare and surely will ease into top gear soon.

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in action against Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon 2012

Most impressive for me though was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who played against a Lleyton Hewitt who was full of beans and playing as well as I've seen him play in a while. Tsonga, however, was right on top of his game, phenomenal, almost as good as when he beat Roger Federer last season.

I was also pleased by David Goffin's performance against another Aussie, Bernard Tomic, who has been touted by many as the next big thing in men's tennis. However, the little Belgian looked the business, a super retriever and — dare I say — Federer-esque with his shot-making. We saw him almost shock Federer at the French Open recently, and while he lacks the size perhaps to be one of the top players, I expect him to become a more regular fixture in the latter stages of the Slams.

Finally, I was less than impressed by Serena Williams in her 6-2 6-4 win over Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. The scoreline may suggest otherwise, but Serena — who I have tipped to win this tournament — was a bundle of nerves in the second set. She was all over the place, threatening to self-destruct once more, just as she did in the first round at Roland Garros.

But, credit to her, she held it together. Maybe she just needs a few wins in a row to get over that remarkable implosion in Paris. If she can steady herself, she can go all the way, but — as I feared — she is her own worst enemy.

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