If the British expect Grand Slam success, they look no further than 3 time major winner Andy Murray. But the next fortnight also gives the lesser household names draped in red, white and blue to take centre stage.
With Murray nursing a hip injury, British no.2 Kyle Edmund submitting a rotten grass court report card in 2017 and world no.50 Dan Evans banned for the foreseeable future after testing positive for cocaine, British tennis fans aren’t in any mood to be optimistic. However with expectations at their lowest, British players have tended to produce their best.
The pressures off
Prior to his 2013 success, Murray’s name couldn’t be mentioned without sharing the same sentence as Fred Perry. Tuning into the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon, viewers were constantly reminded of the ‘wait’ that fans nationwide were suffering from as they longed for the next British champion at SW19. Despite becoming the first British man to win since Perry, Murray admitted that he’d never properly enjoyed his triumph. You can imagine it was more a sense of relief. Having been crowned the victor for a second time last summer however, things felt different. It was the start of a near impeccable second half of the season, as he won a clutch of titles including the World Tour finals and claiming the top ranking spot. With all that behind him, what left does he have to prove to the British public and perhaps more importantly himself?
Despite a baron run of form (by the standards of a world no.1 anyway) Murray will open on Centre Court on Monday lunchtime without the British expectancy of a third crown. He’s won Wimbledon twice in four years and I think the nation is prepared just to see how he gets on and judge him a match at a time. This could work wonders for Murray. Throughout his career he has always played the part of underdog, fighting against the oncoming tide of excellence produced by Federer, Djokovic and Nadal. The Scot likes nothing more than taking to the court and fighting tooth and nail against his opponent, trying to outlast and outsmart him until the final ball, whatever his chances. As soon as Murray became world number one it almost forced him to alter his mentality from underdog to ‘top dog’ and I don’t think he’s coped well with that transition at all. If he can remain injury free and slip back into the mentality of being the hunter rather than the hunted, he could do a lot better than people think. The climate Murray faces as he enters his 12th Wimbledon might be perfect storm the Scot needs to mount another challenge.
First round delight
As the qualifiers were slotted into the main draw, it’s now known Britain will certainly have a male player in round two. Plucky qualifier Alexander Ward was paired with Kyle Edmund, confirming that there will be British interest until at least Thursday. While Liam Broady faced off against Murray last year, this tie has a great air of unpredictability surrounding it. 22 year old Edmund is ranked 807 places above Ward and at five years his junior will hope to keep progressing towards the top of the rankings.
But despite the numerical gulf between the two, Ward arrives at Wimbledon having won three grass matches on the trot. Edmund hasn’t even played three grass matches this year. Having made his Wimbledon debut in 2016, Ward has just won a trio of consecutive ties to come through qualifying unscathed. His final victory against Gabashvilli of Russia was particularly impressive, playing with a confidence not generally associated away from the higher echelons of the game. I’m not saying Ward’s form makes him the favorite but I think Edmund will be in for a long afternoon. British crowds love an underdog and if Ward can keep in touch with his opponent and land some quality shots, they might start to sniff an upset. It’s certainly not outside the realms of possibility that Ward could snatch a set or two from his fellow countryman. He could even win it. Either way, one of them will break their Wimbledon duck and make it into round two, a fine achievement.
Anything can happen…
With the majority of the male British competitors poorly fancied to go deep into the tournament, the home crowd will always do its best to get behind the lower ranked players. Although not quite on par with the die hard Aussie fans that roar/clap/sing for Kyrgios and co. the native support will be there to back Aljaz Bedene and the three wildcards, James Ward, Brydan Klein and Cameron Norrie. James Ward, no relation to Alexander, squares off against Cypriot veteran Baghdatis, while Klein and Norrie will be expected to come off second best against Antalya champion Yuichi Sugita and Wimbledon favorite Jo Tsonga respectively. If you cast your mind back a year however, another British player was given little to no chance and turned those odds upside down. Marcus Willis, one the great stories of last years Championships, was given an incredibly remote chance in his first round match and ended up winning in straight sets against a top 60 player. Lets hope his blueprint for unlikely success can be adopted during the opening two days. For what its worth, when Bedene takes on the giant Ivo Karlovic, I think he might just nick it in five.