A good luck letter from Arsenal was the driving force behind James Ward’s terrific Court One performance at Wimbledon yesterday.
Although the 25-year-old was beaten 6-3 5-7 6-4 6-7 (7/3) 6-3 by 10th seed Mardy Fish, he emerged with huge credit following one of the displays of his career.
Ranked 173rd in the world, few expected the Londoner to take a set, let alone go close to winning the match.
Yet only Fish’s late rally preventing Ward from joining Andy Murray in round three.
And afterwards Ward thanked Arsenal and their chief executive Ivan Gazidis for writing to him on Wednesday after he admitted he was forced to relinquish his £1,300 season ticket to save money.
Arsenal have not given Ward the ticket back, but they did send him a shirt with his name on the back and invited him to join them in the directors’ box for a game next season.
“I got a bag today. They gave me a shirt and a really nice letter. I really appreciated that and I look forward to going to a few games next season,” Ward said.
“I had been told I had received a bag from Arsenal so I asked for it before I played.
“It was nice to get a shirt with my name on it and they actually went to a lot effort. It wasn’t just a letter. I appreciate it. Small details make a difference.”
Ward could well have demanded the freedom of the Emirates Stadium had he managed to see off Fish.
At a set and then 2-1 down, he was expected to fade away as so many low-ranked Brits have done over recent years.
He proved he is made of stern stuff, though, only buckling after a disastrous service game deep into the decider.
“I’m disappointed,” he said. “Everyone else seems to be pretty happy but I don’t know why.
“It was a good match and I’m not going to lie and say it wasn’t. It was a special day for both of us.”
Having started in front of a sparse crowd on the second court, Ward eventually departed to a standing ovation from a near-packed arena, with many more watching on the big screen on ‘Henman Hill’.
“That was unbelievable,” Ward said of the atmosphere.
“It is a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. I’ll be thinking about that a lot over the weekend.
“I have been watching Wimbledon since I was a kid and it was special. Mardy also told me the ovation was for me and not him. I appreciated that.”
Anne Keothavong claimed it was unfair to compare her performance to Heather Watson’s heroics after making a tame second-round exit from Wimbledon at the hands of Sara Errani.
Italian Errani is the 10th seed and fresh from reaching the final at the French Open, but the 6-1 6-1 scoreline was still a major disappointment, particularly after Watson’s success on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old, who is now close to overtaking Keothavong as British number one, beat America’s Jamie Hampton to become the first home player in 10 years to reached the third round.
Keothavong, pictured below, said: “Heather played a great match yesterday. But she played Jamie Hampton, my opponent was Sara Errani. It was slightly different.
“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. And to lose in that fashion, it’s not particularly pleasing.
“I just forced it a bit too much. She didn’t hit me off the court or anything like that. She was putting the ball in deep, she played some great drop shots.”
At 28, the Londoner is in the autumn of her career, but she has no plans to hang up her tennis racquet any time soon.
“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,” she said.
“I still enjoy what I’m doing and I still feel like I can improve. Today’s performance wasn’t very good, and I know that. But I also know it’s just one match this year. I know I’m capable of playing better tennis.
“That keeps me motivated. 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.”
Elena Baltacha won just four games as she crashed out at the hands of defending champion Petra Kvitova.
Baltacha was hoping to become the first British woman since 1996 to reach the last 16, but she came nowhere near getting the faintest sniff of victory on Court Two as she fell to a 6-0 6-4 loss.
Baltacha’s defeat, in what could be her last match at Wimbledon, was down to a combination of some sublime tennis from Kvitova and some woeful ball-striking in the first set from the British number two who did exhibit some fight in the second set.
British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray, and the rest of the partisan crowd, willed Baltacha on as she took to the court, but their support counted for little as Kvitova destroyed the Scot.