August 9, 2022

The warm-up was pretty good, with Dan Evans winning at Nottingham and Ryan Peniston, Harriet Dart and other British players producing superb performances at Queen’s, Eastbourne and elsewhere in the weeks leading up to Wimbledon. But the main event turns out to be even better, with Heather Watson leading the second week at Wimbledon and several other players, including Katie Boulter and Liam Broady, producing career-best performances to claim the biggest wins of their careers. .

Wonderful Watson

Heather Watson has been almost as present at Wimbledon this week as the everlasting strawberries and cream, as rain delays and the subsequent rearrangement of matches meant she played every day this week. However, it was worth it, because for the first time she reached the second week of a Slam.

Watson had previously appeared in the third round at Wimbledon three times, including in 2015 when she played against Serena Williams and came close to winning against arguably the greatest tennis player of all time. But neither Wimbledon nor any other Major had ever reached the last 16 before – until now.

In her round of 16 match, Watson faced Kaia Juvan of Slovenia, who, at 21, is nearly a decade younger than her (Watson turned 30 in May). Moreover, Juvan, the current world number 62, was also much higher ranked than Watson, who had slipped outside the world top 100 after a pandemic-related loss of form. Therefore, she could only hope that her superior experience and home crowd support could inspire her to victory.

Eventually he did, but not before what might be called a classic “Watson Wobble”. After winning an extremely tight first set on a tie-break, Watson first capitalized on her opponent’s disappointment to take a 5-0 lead in the second set. However, just as it looked like she was going to bag the Slovenian going into the fourth round, Watson seemed to be on edge (although she denied it after the match) and was broken down as she served for the game. Then, when Juvan held his serve and suddenly rediscovered his own top form, it looked like Watson might suffer one of the greatest chokes of all time.

Game eight of the second set lasted well over eight minutes, with Juvan holding plenty of breakpoints. Then Watson kind of closed the game and the game with a final volley forward to cut off a cross pass from Juvan. She finally collapsed on the grass, obviously overwhelmed with the emotion of finally going where she had never been before. The 2008 US Open junior champion will almost certainly never win a Major (like most Junior Major winners), but for now reaching the last 16 at Wimbledon, her home Slam, after a dozen years of trying, was a form of compensation.

brave boulderer

If Heather Watson had shown sporting courage by finally beating Juvan, Katie Boulter showed real courage, or at the very least extraordinary resilience, by beating Karolína Plíšková to reach the third round at Wimbledon. Indeed, as the world learned after the game, his beloved grandmother had passed away just days before. However, the fact that her grandfather put aside his own grief to appear in the players’ box on center court probably gave her the inspiration she needed to beat the Wimbledon runner-up last year.

It’s never easy to play, let alone beat, the same player twice in a row, especially when played twice a week and even more so when the player in question is as accomplished as Plíšková. But after beating the Czech in the round of 16 at Eastbourne last week, Boulter improved on that performance at Wimbledon. After conceding the first set to Plíšková, she literally roared to win the second set on a tie-break, before breaking Plíšková’s serve in the ninth game of the third set and then serving to win the match.

Regardless of his recent bereavement, Boulter has been plagued by injuries (the bane of any professional sportsman’s life) over the past few years. That trend continued this year, as she had to miss the entire month of March to rest, recuperate, and rehabilitate. But now that she finally appears to be enjoying a few months injury-free, she’s reminding everyone she has a power play, including the mighty serve required, to challenge any other woman on tour – even Iga Swiatek, the world current #1, which is not yet as dominant on grass as it has been on all other surfaces.

In the third round, Boulter will face Harmony Tan, the conqueror of Serena Williams in the first round. It’s a winnable game for both women, but with Boulter likely to be on show ground again and therefore likely to enjoy the support of a large home crowd, she has a good chance of following Heather Watson at the fourth round.

And Brilliant Broady

Despite the excellence of Boulter’s victory over Plíšková, the best British performance of the first week at Wimbledon was undoubtedly that of Liam Broady, who beat the 12e seeded Diego Schwarzman in an epic five-set match, 6-2, 4-6, 0-6, 7-6, 6-1. Although grass was far from clay specialist Schwarzman’s preferred surface, it was still the best performance and result of Broady’s career, not least because at one point in the middle of the match , he lost 11 games in a row and looked destined to collapse. to defeat. But Broady, like Boulter before him and Watson after, recovered dramatically to win the final two sets. Indeed, after narrowly winning the fourth set tie-break, he seemed to break Schwarzman’s spirit and eventually won the fifth set relatively easily.

Broady has been the closest man to British tennis for so long, a universally popular player who was never able to cut it on the ATP Tour and therefore struggled to survive on the Challenger and Futures Tours]. Even this summer, when Ryan Peniston and Jack Draper enjoyed superb runs at Queen’s and Eastbourne respectively, he seemed unable to step out of the shadows. But now he has reached the third round of a Major for the first time, where he will face Draper’s winner, Australian Alex de Minaur (who, coincidentally, is Katie Boulter’s boyfriend).

Andy Murray’s resilience obviously inspires others

Many reasons have been given for the revival of British tennis this summer, with more than half a dozen women and a similar number of men putting in career-best performances and, more impressively, some of them chasing this form at Wimbledon. Among them is the greater camaraderie between British players that was generated by the ‘Battle of the Brits’ tournaments two years ago, during lockdown, when all British players, male and female, were brought together by the LTA in a series of individual tournaments. and team events behind closed doors.

Likewise, the Emma Raducanu effect was considerable, especially on her fellow Britons. Before reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon last summer and then stunning the tennis world by winning the US Open last September, Raducanu hadn’t been singled out as immeasurably better than every other British woman. Therefore, the fact that she could win a Major in qualifying no doubt inspired other British players, like Boulter, to think, “Well, if she can do it, why can’t I?”

However, probably the most significant influence on the recent resurgence of British tennis has been the enduring example of Andy Murray. The tall Scotsman may have made his first m, in the second round, this week, but that hardly matters when you consider what he’s been through in the last six years.

Murray’s career has almost been one of two halves, with the first half culminating in his spectacular 2016 season when he won Wimbledon and Olympic singles gold (both for the second time) before to pursue Novak Djokovic and ultimately overtake him to reach the world. #1 place at the end of the year. The feat made him the only man outside of the Gigantic Three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer to reach the No. 1 spot in men’s tennis in the past two decades.

Nevertheless, for all the glory of the first half of Murray’s career, it was arguably the resilience that was the hallmark of the second half of his career that inspired his young compatriots the most. When Murray won Wimbledon and Olympic gold, it was easy to think it was the natural result of God-given talent – ​​the kind of talent that, by definition, is only ever doled out to a select few. But in contrast, the almost pathological desire to continue playing tennis that he has shown in recent years, when he has had to undergo so many different surgeries, has perhaps been even more inspiring for his compatriots. British than his previous triumphs. The injuries made him mortal and therefore more like them.

Maybe, just maybe, it was the memory of Murray and his battle with the death of his once shining light that inspired Watson to overcome his wobble, Boulter to keep fighting a much higher ranked opponent and his own sense of loss after the death of his grandfather and Liam Broady to continue after losing 11 straight games to Diego Schwarzman. If so, then that inspiration, even more than the Wimbledon titles, will be Andy Murray’s lasting legacy to British tennis.

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