Wimbledon hero James Ward insists he remains Britain’s second-best player, despite losing the nation’s official No 2 berth to Slovenia-born Aljaz Bedene.
Arsenal fan Ward defeated Jiri Vesely to reach Wimbledon’s third round for the first time, admitting another victory at SW19 would be as big to him as the Gunners winning the Premier League.
World No 75 Bedene – who lost to 22nd seed Viktor Troicki yesterday – gained a British passport in March after seven years’ residency in England, immediately assuming Ward’s No 2 status.
Ward finally cracked the world’s top 100 to join Andy Murray in victory and hand Britain two men in Wimbledon’s third round for the first time since 2002, before asserting his place in the domestic pecking order.
“Yeah, of course,” said Ward when asked if he still considers himself Britain’s second-best player behind Murray.
Beverley’s Kyle Edmund entered Wimbledon as Britain’s No 3, with Ward technically in fourth.
Victory over Vesely should see Ward claim third spot, though he still sees himself as trailing only Murray among the Britons.
“It’s something that I’ve had for a few years now,” said Ward, of his second-place status.
“Being No 2 doesn’t really change your life too much in this country.”
The average age of players breaking into the top 100 is just 21; Ward has bucked that trend at 28 to gain a provisional berth of 87.
This should guarantee automatic qualification for the US Open at the end of August, with Ward pleased to level out a string of Davis Cup victories by finally doing himself justice at a grand slam.
Ward surrendered 65 places in the world rankings to Czech 21-year-old Vesely, but prevailed 6-2 7-6 (7/4) 3-6 6-3 with a bullish and accomplished performance.
Bedene was unable to follow suit, in defeat to Troicki, denying Britain three men in Wimbledon’s third round for the first time since 1999.
Likeable Hertfordshire resident Bedene claimed after his first-round victory over Radek Stepanek that his new-found nationality can spur on all the British players to new heights.
Ward producing his best-ever grand slam return under pressure from Bedene proves immediate supporting evidence, and the man himself could not disagree.
“That happens in any country,” said Ward.
“The more top players you have got, it has a knock-on effect to everyone else. I don’t think here will be any different.”
Ward will meet world No 56 Vasek Pospisil tomorrow, admitting another triumph would be as big a dream as his hopes for Arsenal.
“Winning in the third round would probably be like Arsenal winning the league next year to be honest,” said Ward.
“After that we start thinking about Champions League finals.
“Let’s think about Saturday first.”
Ward despatched world No 17 John Isner to provide the pivotal win in Great Britain’s Davis Cup victory over the USA earlier this year.
The Britons face France at Queen’s Club a week after Wimbledon, and Ward’s resurgent form ought to nail down that second singles spot alongside Murray.
Davis Cup captain Leon Smith was on court to watch the fine victory, with Ward pleased to prove himself capable of transferring team form into major tournaments.
“A little bit,” said Ward when asked if victory proved his grand slam point.
“I’ve been having a few injuries the last couple of months where most people didn’t really know that was the case.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating, you don’t always want to come out and say it because you want to keep playing and you don’t want to give away too much to other coaches and players in locker rooms.
“A lot of stuff gets written about you in the press, why you can win in the Davis Cup and why can’t you win every other week.
“It’s not as easy as that. There are a lot of good players out there and everyone is trying to do well.
“I’m very happy with this week and I’ll look to try to carry it on for the rest of the year as well.
“It’s tough to explain how I felt (on victory); a lot of relief to have reached the third round for the first time. Onwards and upwards.”
Ward’s London cabbie father ferried him to and from countless training sessions as a youngster – but has never driven the Wimbledon hero to matches at SW19.
Ward took some time to dispel a few myths about his preparation for action at south west London’s grand slam event.
Asked if it was true his father drives him to Wimbledon in his black cab, Ward replied: “No, I think that’s been made up every year.
“Everyone thinks that. He’s never driven me to Wimbledon, not one day, for practice or matches or anything.
“When all that’s going on he’s working.”
Rafael Nadal became the highest-profile casualty of this year’s Wimbledon after slumping to a 7-5 3-6 6-4 6-4 defeat to dreadlocked German Dustin Brown.
Nadal’s early exit: Page 22.