May 29, 2016

Kick on for Queen and Country

For most years the success (or otherwise) of Britain’s tennis players rises to the top of people’s priority for the last week in June and the first week in July.

Then for the non-tennis following public, the hub-bub simply disappears and remains perhaps a footnote on the odd national news sports bulletin.

But this year something strange happened.

Perhaps due to the Jubilee, or the forthcoming Olympics, but the news of five people into the second round was a cause for a decent cream tea and perhaps a cheeky Pimms.

Even where players fell at the first hurdle, there were hard fought battles with higher raked opponents being pushed hard, step forward plucky fighters Jamie Baker and Laura Robson, giving former Slam champions Andy Roddick and Francesca Schiavone more than just a routine practice.

But Slam progression is just one match at a time, and the second round saw the numbers dwindle sharply.

Andy Murray needed to harness physical and mental strength to withstand the bombardment of 130 mph+ missiles from big serving Croat Ivo Karlovic, winning 7-5 6-7(7), 6-2 7-6(7).

In a match where it was unlikely he would gather much rhythm, and was at times surprised by Karlovic’s nimbleness at the net, Murray prevailed in a fourth set tiebreak which left many fans fingers gnawed to the bone.

Heather Watson has impressed everyone this year with the apparent ease of her first two victories, and faces a real test against the world number 3 Agnieszka Radwanska in the third round.

Yet there still could be a good chance for her, if her self-belief continues.

Maybe the key to her success this year has been a willingness to change her approach.

After her second round victory against USA’s Jamie Hampton, 6-1, 6-4, she acknowledged that making some changes was a way to move herself up a level.

Watson said:”I’ve been known as kind of a counter‑puncher, good at moving and reading the game well, and I wanted to get to the next step, improve my game.

“I’ve been working with my coach at being more aggressive, coming to the net.

“I can volley.  I love to volley.  Probably volleyed once today and missed it.

“I’ve been working on being more aggressive.  And especially on the grass, you have to be.”

James Ward had a real chance to push his way past Mardy Fish, and battled through a tough fifth set decider, before Fish’s experience got the better of him.

After his great run at Queens last year, and already having come through a five-setter to get to the second round, the crowd on Court 1 stood to give Ward an ovation at the end of the match.

Ward said “It was nice of Mardy, as well.  He said the standing ovation was for me, so go out and enjoy it.  It was nice.  I appreciate it.”

Elena Baltacha pushed the 2011 Champion Petra Kvitova more in the second set, but sadly lost 0-6. 4-6.

However, Baltacha remained fairly pragmatic.

“I just kind of wish the second set was the first set, and then who knows what could have happened.  She played absolutely unbelievable,” she said, “she’s a very classy player.”

And of course being awarded an ITF wildcard, Baltacha will return for the Olympics

After years of injuries and an illness that almost put paid to her career, she could be forgiven for allowing retirement to cross her mind.

“I think if I still really enjoy it, if I still believe I’m improving and I still love it, then I’ll carry on.  But I’m literally going on a week‑to‑week basis.  I don’t put any pressure on myself.”

Anne Keothavong had perhaps more chances against French Open finalist Sara Errani, but succumbed 4-6, 4-6.

She admitted that she had her chances, and simply didn’t take those opportunities.

Keothavong said: “I’m disappointed with my own performance because I know I can play better.  I didn’t challenge her today as much as I would have liked.

“To lose in that fashion, you know, it’s not particularly pleasing.”

Like Baltacha, she will be returning to SW19 for the Olympics, also having been awarded a wildcard.

In between, she is looking ahead to the US swing.

“Had I not been on the Olympic team I would have camped out there until the US Open.  But I think the gap’s just too long from now until the Olympics.”

As with Baltacha, the question of retirement was also put to her.

“I have been around for a while, but there are girls older than me who are still out there winning slams and doing really well.

“That keeps me motivated.  You know, as long as I’m still enjoying it and as long as I’m fit and healthy, there are worse ways to make a living.”

It is strange to use the words “putting Murray aside”, but the real question is can these players now kick on and achieve more success as we gear up first for the Olympics, and then the US Open.

Where once cynics would complain about our Brits “crashing out”, there does appear to be some optimism.

Is there a sense of optimism in 2012 and a stirring of national pride in our tennis players?

And more importantly, with the US Open still to come in the tennis calendar, is now the time for the top British players to use this sense of optimism to “kick on” for Queen and country, and perhaps reach their full potential?

Ros Satar is a British Journalist- an IT Journalist by day, a Sports journalist part-time and her match observations can be found at the Chalkdust Chronicles (chalkdustchronicles.blogspot.com). Follow her on twitter at @rfsatar.

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