Washouts have been a regular theme at the tennis this week – but on Wednesday it wasn’t the elements to blame. Of the four British players who took the court at Queen’s Club and Edgbaston Priory, three suffered straight-sets defeats, although further rain did at least help Kyle Edmund survive into Thursday.
This is another reality check for the sport, and another reminder of how much Andy Murray – who is due to make his comeback on the doubles court on Thursday – has carried British tennis over the past decade and more.
Since Murray’s hip gave up on him at the 2017 French Open, we have managed just a solitary singles victory in three seasons of the Fever-Tree Championships, which was claimed by Edmund over Ryan Harrison a year ago.
The Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham has fared ever so slightly better, with three home players reaching the second round in as many seasons. But even that remains a largely Brit-free zone.
There was a bitter irony in the release of Wimbledon’s first batch of wild cards, which mostly focused on tomorrow’s hopes. Jack Draper and Emma Radacanu – who were both invited to enter qualifying – are two teenagers with genuine potential, while 19-year-old Paul Jubb recently became the first British winner of the NCAA title, the top honour in the American college system.
Yet the contrast remains stark between Britain’s status as the home of the world’s greatest tournament – with all the opportunities that entails – and our thin playing reserves. It is particularly damning that only one woman, Johanna Konta, now stands in the world’s top 120.
The deluge of disappointment began with Konta, who had what looked like a promising draw against Jelena Ostapenko in Birmingham. This has been a miserable season for Ostapenko, who won the 2017 French Open while still only 19. But she is a confidence player, and on this occasion she arrived empowered by her dominant first-round win over Iga Swiatek.
You had to feel for Konta. She missed a chance to make an early incision in the opening game of the match, seeing four break points slip past. And that was about as good as it got. From then on, Ostapenko rushed Konta with her ambitious and ferocious hitting, taking the ball so early that you felt like adjusting your watch.
“It is quite frustrating to be on the court against her,” said Konta afterwards, “because I had so few opportunities. I did the best that I could in trying to find a way to disrupt her rhythm, to get her out of her clean-striking zone.”
After going down by a 6-3, 6-4 scoreline, Konta has only one more tournament to prepare herself for Wimbledon – next week’s Nature Valley International at Eastbourne, which happens to be her parents’ home town. Everything happens so quickly during the grass-court season, whether you’re talking about the rallies or the five-week swing itself.
That was certainly the case for Dan Evans, who arrived in London with ten straight Challenger victories behind him. Queen’s Club is a very different scene, however: one of the toughest ATP draws of the year, thanks to its status as the main Wimbledon warm-up event.
Having not faced a top-50 player since the French Open, Evans was forced to take a significant step up against the three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, who burst out to a 3-0 lead with a barrage of backhand winners. After a rain break that lasted a couple of hours, Evans was bundled out by a 6-3, 6-4 scoreline. At least there was no lasting damage done when he tumbled over on the slippery turf, and for a minute seemed to have popped something in his calf.
Out on Court 1, 20-year-old Jay Clarke was facing an even bigger rankings differential against Lucas Pouille of France, who stands 135 places above him at No. 29 in the world. To his credit, Clarke kept the first set close before the gap told and Pouille eased home by a 7-6, 6-1 scoreline. As for Edmund, his match was suspended as he trailed 6-3, 3-3 to top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Meanwhile, Murray’s doubles partner Feliciano Lopez was forced to release a statement denying any involvement in match-fixing during a doubles appearance at Wimbledon two years ago.
A report in AS, a Spanish sporting newspaper, said that Lopez’s name had come up in the course of Operation Oikos – an investigation into a football match-fixing group. According to the report, the former Sevilla striker Carlos Aranda had told an unnamed contact to bet against Feliciano Lopez and his doubles partner, the unrelated Marc Lopez, who then went on to lose their first-round match.
“I will do everything within my power to defend myself against any such false accusations,” said Feliciano Lopez.