WonderWard: Brave James takes Fish all the way but just comes up short
00:44 GMT, 29 June 2012
In the end, he finished disappointed for a third time in a week. But for James Ward there was honour and pride in this most dramatic of defeats.
Being denied an Olympic wildcard and giving up his Arsenal season ticket because it cost too much — only to then claim a serious pay day by reaching the second round — was the colourful backdrop to Ward’s clash with American Mardy Fish.
No chance of the rollercoaster stopping there, though, as the 25-year-old London taxi driver’s son offered his new legion of followers on Court No 1 four hours and 13 minutes of compelling sporting theatre.
So close: James Ward had his chances to claim a memorable scalp
This was what all the hours on the practice courts at the national tennis centre in Roehampton, funded by the LTA, had been about.
And thank goodness the world No 173 didn’t do himself a serious disservice by accepting such a gallant defeat with anything less than what appeared genuine frustration.
‘Everyone seems to be quite happy but I’m disappointed,’ Ward insisted. ‘It was a great match and I’ll remember the standing ovation for the rest of my life, but obviously I don’t like losing.’
Return: Fish was making first appearance since heart op
Ward’s pedigree on grass had previously peaked at overcoming Stanislas Wawrinka, then the world No 14, to reach the semi-finals at Queen’s just over a year ago. But yesterday will clearly stay with him and hopefully inspire him in his quest for even greater feats for some time to come.
Ward said: ‘You know, he played well and so did I. He’s a top player for a reason and he came up with some big points at the right time. Every time I had a chance he came up with a big first serve, you’ve got to expect that. He’s a great player and he went for it and it came off.’
Boost: Ward celebrates winning a set
Fish also entered the match following an unusual, and unhelpful, run-in. From heart surgery last month to a missed press conference following his first-round win which drew doubts as to his health, the American looked to be up against it in trying to play to his No 10 seeding.
That was until the action started, however. The man from Atlanta swept through the first set with consummate ease to spark fears of a mismatch from the Union flag-waving set.
Flying the flag: A British fan cheers on Ward
Ward said: ‘There had been a lot of talk about his health but you could see out there he wasn’t really struggling too much. I don’t think he’s the sort of guy that’s going to play for the sake of it. If he didn’t feel like he was ready, I’m sure he wouldn’t be playing. He was fine.’
Although one of a series of stinging forehand winners helped Ward draw level, Fish reclaimed the initiative to go 2-1 ahead before breaking the Briton’s serve to secure an all-too premature match point.
Fighting spirit: Ward refused to give up
Cue further proof of Ward’s grit and determination as he not only held his nerve to save it, but went on and clinched the fourth set to take their clash the distance. Great stuff.
Any doubts, or even hopes, regarding Fish’s potential lack of stamina for a sun-drenched fifth set disappeared, however, as the six-time title-winner on the men’s tour tightened the screw at 4-4, forcing Ward into submission.
‘James played well today, he played well enough to win,’ admitted the American. ‘He served as well as anyone has served against me all year. I was very happy to win a match like that. I didn’t feel great after my first-round match, but I feel a lot better now, that’s for sure.’
Relief: Fish celebrates after defeating Ward
Job done for Fish, and a place in the third round. For Ward, a heroic defeat and an Arsenal shirt, sent by the club, with his name and the No 12, to celebrate his success this year.
Although much to his credit, you could see it was all scant consolation for what Ward really wanted, the victory which he came so close to grasping.