While some players feel the pressure of expectation at their home Grand Slams, others thrive with the local support – and that proved especially true as James Ward and Elena Baltacha claimed upset wins over higher-ranked opponents to continue a stunning run of British success at Wimbledon.
With Baltacha stretched to three sets against Italian Karin Knapp and Ward going the distance in a stirring 4-6 6-0 3-6 6-3 6-3 win over world No.36 Pablo Andjubar, the cheering crowd members were especially welcome.
Ward, who only took up tennis at the age of 11, appeared to be on the way to his third loss in Wimbledon’s first round after his Spanish opponent cruised to a 6-4 first set win but the determined 25-year-old turned things around by taking the second set 6-0 in just 21 minutes. Andujar fought back to claim the third set but Ward refused to be beaten, relying on some huge ground strokes to claim the 4-6, 6-0, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win in three hours and 26 minutes.
“Wimbledon is the biggest tournament in the world,” said the 173rd-ranked Ward, when asked if he’d just experienced his best-ever win. “He's a top player, you know. Grass isn't his favourite surface, don't get me wrong, but he's 36 in the world and wins titles on clay for fun. He's a good player and he competes very well. He didn't give up on anything. Yeah, it's a massive win.”
The victory was especially encouraging given that Ward entered Wimbledon after a frustrating first-round loss at Queen’s, where he was a semi-finalist last year. “People around me are telling me that you're not too far away. You've got to keep going. Keep your head up. It's not easy, because obviously everyone expected you to do what you did last year at Queen's, so it was a tough couple of weeks,” said Ward, who now meets Mardy Fish in the second round. “It makes the hard work worthwhile.”
The 28-year-old Baltacha, who set up a second round meeting with defending champion Petra Kvitova, surrendered a tight first set to the Italian and then faced the challenge of maintaining focus after Knapp fell early in the second set, and subsequently received several medical treatments for a leg injury. “When you’re not sure how they are, know what you're gonna do, how you're going to play them, that was a little bit tricky,” Baltacha said.
After evening the score with a second set win over Knapp, the world No.101 suffered her own injury problems, receiving treatment on her knee and hip. With her opponent seeming increasingly restricted, however, nothing was going to stop Baltacha from seizing victory in her beloved Grand Slam – which, in 11 appearances, has provided her most emotional tennis experiences.
“[The} first time I played on Centre I remember crying for probably an hour before I went on. It wasn't because I was scared. It was because I was just really overwhelmed with the fact that they've put me on such a big court,” said the thrilled Baltcha, who broke Knapp’s serve three times in the final set to take the 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win.
“You know, because obviously when I was growing up watching Wimbledon and watching all the big stars that were on there, just overwhelmed me the fact that I had an opportunity to be on the same court... the second time I played on it, same thing again. I was just so excited.”
Baltacha, will draw on those memories as she prepares to meet defending champion Kvitova in the second round. “Again, I'll just be very, very excited. I won't feel scared,” she said. “And plus being at home, home Grand Slam, you get so much support. You know, it will just be an amazing atmosphere.”
The good news for local players continued as Anne Keothavong defeated Laura Pous-Tio 6-3, 6-3 to set up a second round meeting with Vandeweghe or recent French Open finalist Sara Errani, although Johanna Konta, making her debut for Great Britain at Wimbledon, was unable to survive the shoot-out against Christina McHale when their match resumed at 7-7 in the third set after being delayed overnight.
Jamie Baker pushed Andy Roddick to a first-set tiebreak, with the American holding a 4-2 lead in the second set when play was suspended due to rain and bad light.