British tennis had a positive glow about it last night with five players through to the second round at Wimbledon – a best return for six years.
Andy Murray’s progress against Nikolay Davydenko was the headline news but, beyond him, there was a win in the men’s draw for James Ward and victories for seasoned campaigners Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong.
With the two successful women also having their Olympic wild cards confirmed there was a feeling of home euphoria around SW19, especially with rising star Heather Watson having already progressed on Monday.
It could still be six in the second round, too, with Jamie Baker forced off early while a set down against Andy Roddick because of rain, but yesterday belonged to those who had already made it over the first hurdle.
Baltacha was the first past the post, beating Karin Knapp in three sets on Court 18 before breaking down in tears.
With 11 Fed Cup appearances to rank alongside 11 Wimbledon visits, she has certainly put the miles in over time, if often without reward.
Her moment came yesterday, though, when, after shaking off a hip problem to beat Italian Knapp, who suffered a mid-match injury herself, she was told by national coach Judy Murray that she would be going to the Olympics.
“I was very emotional at the end, especially when I got told I had got the wild card for the Olympics,” said Baltacha.
“ I didn’t know until Judy told me at the end. If I had have known, I would have been all over the place and crying my eyes out.
“I have played 11 years of Fed Cup and really wanted a spot to represent my country. I can’t explain how amazing it feels.”
Next to win was Ward, his win perhaps dwarfing Murray’s in terms of what it represented.
So often the Scot is standing alone by this stage of the men’s tournament, but Londoner Ward joined him after coming through a five-set thriller 4-6 6-0 3-6 6-3 6-3 with Pablo Andujar.
The achievement was not lost on Ward either. When he was asked if it was the biggest win of his career he replied: “Of course. Wimbledon is the biggest tournament in the world.
“People keep telling me that I’m not far away and this makes it all worthwhile.
“Grass isn’t Andujar’s favourite surface, 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 so it’s a massive win.”
Murray then saw off Davydenko 6-1 6-1 6-4 in a match he was expected to find tricky at least, with Keothavong making it a quartet of second-day victors by seeing off Spain’s Laura Pous-Tio.
World No 77 Keothavong, who is ranked 25 places higher than Pous-Tio, recovered from a scrappy opening to clinch the first set with relative ease.
She then broke her opponent twice in the decider and despite a late break from her opponent, the Londoner served out.
“It was good. I made it a little difficult for myself out there. It’s a first-round match at Wimbledon and you’re bound to be a little nervous,” she said.
“I think I was at the start of the match. It was just a case of getting the job done.”
Murray looked in great shape from the start of his encounter with Davydenko and, although he could not quite sustain his level in the third set, it was more than good enough to set up a meeting with either Croatian Ivo Karlovic or Dudi Sela of Israel.
The 25-year-old said: “The first two sets were very good. I got off to a great start. I’ve been waiting around since Queen’s, I’ve been itching to get going.
“I wanted to get out of the blocks quickly (yesterday). I was hitting the ball very cleanly, I used my slice very well.”
Murray is playing in his seventh Wimbledon, and he added: “I probably settle into matches a bit quicker than I used to.
“There’s been a lot of talk from a lot of people so I just wanted to start the tournament. The first round’s never easy but it was a good start.”
At the start of the day Laura Robson failed to cope with Francesca Schiavone’s pedestrian tactics as the teenage Briton crashed out.
Robson, 97th in the world, is ranked 71 places below Schiavone, but the 18-year-old Londoner made the 2010 French Open champion look ordinary in the first set by putting on a majestic display of powerful baseline tennis.
Schiavone regained her composure, however, and survived three break points in the second set before running out a 2-6 6-4 6-4 winner.
Schiavone caused mumblings of discontent in the Court Two crowd on several occasions, grunting throughout and asking for her towel repeatedly in an apparent attempt to knock the home favourite off her stride.
Robson stopped short of criticising her Italian opponent, but conceded the 32-year-old’s approach made life hard at times.
“In general I think she took a lot of time between points,” said Robson. “And that gave me more time to think about what I was doing. I think that’s really tough.”