No Home Advantage Lately for British Wild Cards


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James Ward is the lone British man to win as a wild card at Wimbledon in the previous five seasons.

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Jan Kruger/Getty Images for Lta

LONDON — Andy Murray ended 77 years of British torment in 2013 when he became the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936. But as this year’s tournament approaches, a drought still persists for Murray’s compatriots.

While wild cards are seldom expected to make a significant impact at the Grand Slam events, given that they are often ranked well outside the top 100, the British lagged well behind the Australians, the French and the Americans in collecting victories as wild cards at their home majors in the past five seasons.

“I don’t really look into what wild cards have or haven’t done, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me something interesting,” James Ward, a regular British wild-card recipient at Wimbledon, said before he was given a numerical summary.

Ward is the lone British man to win as a wild card at Wimbledon in the previous five seasons and indeed since 2006, when three advanced to the second round. The women have fared slightly better. Laura Robson and Naomi Broady lifted the combined total in the previous five years to three wins.

The overall record from 2010 to 2014 stood at 3-35, a winning percentage of under 8 percent.

American wild cards at the United States Open led in wins (33) and winning percentage (about 35 percent), followed by French wild cards at the French Open (27 wins and a winning percentage of about 31 percent). Even the Australians at the Australian Open enjoyed a healthy advantage over the British, registering 20 wins and a winning percentage of about 29 percent.

Ward, who faced the prospect of going through qualifying if he was not given a sixth Wimbledon wild card last week, said the statistics were “pretty interesting.”

Lack of depth in the rankings — a longstanding issue in British tennis — dovetails with the lack of wild-card success. Besides Murray, who won two rounds as a wild card at Wimbledon 10 years ago, only five other British men feature in the top 200 of the world rankings. Two, Aljaz Bedene and Brydan Klein, formerly represented Slovenia and Australia on the professional circuit.

Heather Watson, Johanna Konta, who used to compete for Australia, and Broady are the three British women inside the top 200, although had it not been for a serious wrist surgery that sidelined her for most of the past 18 months, Robson figured to have been safely inside the top 50.

But the notion that playing on grass — the least used of tennis’s three main outdoor surfaces — and competing at home should level the playing field makes for one sensible counterpoint.

Ward, for example, enters Wimbledon having played at four grass-court tournaments, including two in the second tier, in four weeks.

Not that Ward, ranked 110th, subscribes to the theory.

“It’s quite funny because everyone thinks we practice on grass all year round and so, ‘Why should we be less better on it than anyone else?’ ” he said. “I don’t get any extra time on it, more than an American or Australian or Frenchman. There’s no reason just because we live here we should do better on the grass than anyone else.”

Bob Brett, the director of player development for the Lawn Tennis Association, the governing body of British tennis, said British players most likely held an advantage a decade or so ago when playing conditions were quicker at Wimbledon.

“The grass is different than it was 10, 15 years ago,” said Brett, an Australian who once coached Goran Ivanisevic, who won Wimbledon in 2001 as a wild card, and Boris Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion. “Everything is just different. You find people who before would have struggled to play on grass. Now, I think they’re all capable of doing it. They can stay at the back. They can attack. It’s more of an even surface than it probably was 20 years ago.”

With no play scheduled on the middle Sunday and clothing required to be mainly white, Wimbledon differs from the three other Grand Slams.

Its wild-card system is also different. Wimbledon does not adhere to a reciprocal policy favored by the other majors. While that means Wimbledon could give every wild card to a British player, in the previous five seasons it has tended to consider only players ranked in the top 250, as per an agreement with the Lawn Tennis Association. Jamie Baker, though, received an invitation in 2010 despite being outside the cutoff. Baker was the only British man to receive a wild card at Wimbledon that season.

This year, the ranking proviso was dropped by the association, which Murray agreed with.

“I have no problem with it being done on an individual basis rather than having a set criteria,” he told reporters last week at the Aegon Championships, a Wimbledon warm-up.

Andrew Jarrett, the Wimbledon referee, acknowledged that a British wild card who excelled at the tournament would make for a “story people can latch on to,” but he said the All England Club issuing more wild cards to the British to fill out the field was simply not an option.

The room is there, however: In only one of the previous five campaigns — 2014 — has Wimbledon used its maximum allotment of 16 wild cards in both singles draws. The three other Grand Slams gave out all 16 at each tournament from 2010 to 2014.

This year, Wimbledon, which has the final say on its wild cards, decided not to use three wild cards in women’s singles. And half of Wimbledon’s wild cards in the previous five seasons have gone to non-British players.

“There is an argument for saying that Wimbledon takes quite an international view,” Jarrett said.

Wild-card results of the British at Wimbledon have led the news media here to refer to them as “flops,” “soft” and, in the case of Alex Bogdanovic, “king of the bottlers,” or someone bereft of mental toughness. Bogdanovic received the last of his eight Wimbledon wild cards in 2009 but never made the second round.

Ward described the British press as a “very rough bunch of people,” but Brett was not about to take issue with the way Wimbledon selected its wild cards.

“I think this year’s stringent L.T.A. recommendation process for the wild-card selection of both main draw and qualification — based on performances of the last 12 months — enhanced clarification for the All England Club’s selection committee,” he said.

He added: “In the end, the federations are responsible for the performance of those who’ve been given the wild cards. That’s what it comes down to. The actual performance depends on the player.”

And finding solutions to the seemingly never-ending troubles afflicting British tennis could take nearly as long as 77 years.



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