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Qualifying begins: 26 June

The Draw: 30 June

Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July

Order of Play: 2 July

Championships begin: 3 July


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Thursday, 6 July 2017 21:49 PM BST
The Preview: Day 5
Four Britons in third round, happy families, and the Japanese 'Bullet Train' READ MORE

Andy Murray was doubtless right in suggesting that it wasn’t cause to get overly carried away yet it does remain a pleasure to record that, on this first Friday of The Championships, four Britons will adorn the third round for the first time for two decades.

The man himself will, as ever, spearhead the charge towards the second week but in Fabio Fognini, one of the game’s most erratic swashbucklers, Murray is being offered a third consecutive Centre Court tale of the unexpected after Alexander Bubliks mid-match chatting and Dustin Brown’s “organised chaos”.

At least this time, Murray is somewhat acquainted with this particular Italian job. After all, in Rome in May, Fognini blew off his doors. “He’s an incredible shot maker. When he’s switched on, he’s really, really tough to beat,” shrugs Murray, who’s level 3-3 with the clay court specialist from San Remo.

Following a fond tradition, all of Fognini’s family have alliterative names, so there’s dad Fulvio, sister Fulvia and cousin Fabiana while Fabio and wife Flavia (Pennetta, the former US Open champion) have christened their new baby Federico. Indeed, Fabio seems so buoyed by fatherhood that you fancy he’s not entertaining F for failure.

There’s definitely a happy family vibe floating around this Wimbledon. Victoria Azarenka is enjoying her comeback as a tennis supermum so much that she’s even been daydreaming idly about how in 20 years her seven-month old Leo might become a Centre Court star here.

For the moment, that is her domain as ‘Vika' looks forward to a fascinating contest with our own Heather Watson. On this Centre Court stage two years ago she nearly perpetrated one of The Championships’ most seismic upsets against Serena Williams, coming within two points of victory.

Azarenka, who’s only had four matches since returning, is adamant that Watson is “not defined” by that Williams contest. However, she knows that if Guernsey’s favourite can tap into that same level of intensity and excellence then a first appearance in the second week of a Grand Slam awaits. Which would, apparently, be bittersweet news for one of Watson’s coaches, Morgan Phillips, who’s promised to shave his legs if she’s still playing here on Monday.

Johanna Konta has her sights trained on beyond that date. “I want to be part of the event for the whole two weeks,” she declared after her epic three-setter with Donna Vekic. Next up today on No.1 Court is 21-year-old Greek prospect Maria Sakkari, who’s being guided for the week by Mark Petchey, the Sky Sports analyst who once coached Murray and who also happens to be one of those Britons who made the third round 20 years ago.

Sakkari’s mother Angeliki was a professional player who was at her peak 30 years ago and never really wanted Maria to make a career in the sport because she thought the life would be too hard. Already, though, Maria has surpassed mum’s best Wimbledon performance, a first round exit in 1986.

The other Briton in action today, Aljaz Bedene, has been reflecting this week on how, if things had turned out differently on his sporting flight path, he might have ended up as a ski jumper.

Aljaz the Albatross never did take wing in Slovenia, allowing his international tennis career to soar instead to the point that he could today deliver the biggest breakthrough yet by getting past Gilles Muller, three-time Luxembourg Sportsperson of the Year, on No.2 Court and earning his first fourth round berth in a Slam.

At 34, father-of-two Muller is enjoying an Indian summer, winning the first two titles of his 16-year career in 2017, including his first grass court triumph at Den Bosch during which he defeated Bedene in three sets.

We were deluged with flying ants a couple of days ago; now it’s only raining terrific matches, headed by Rafael Nadals potentially fiery Centre Court examination from Karen Khachanov, the explosive 21-year-old Russian who, the Spaniard believes, is destined for great things.

Finally, to an irresistible battle of the ages. Naomi Osaka, the Japanese teenager who’s making such swift strides that her opponents are already calling her the Shinkansen ‘Bullet Train’, was born a month after Venus Williams reached her first US Open final in 1997.

Now the US-based 19-year-old has the chance in her debut Wimbledon of defeating one of her heroines, who’s playing her 20th. “I feel like all my life, I’ve been preparing for this,” says the youngster, making their contest on No.1 Court sound like more than just a match.

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