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Tennis star James Ward feels he’s set for his best year yet

James Ward James Ward

Thursday, May 29, 2014
9:00 AM

EXCLUSIVE: Camden’s James Ward feels he is on course for the best year of his career after making history at the French Open.

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The 27-year-old, from Eversholt Street near Euston station, became the first British man for 41 years to progress through the qualifiers to the main draw at Roland Garros.

The north Londoner was given a tough draw in the first round, facing 17th seed Tommy Robredo, but he won the first set before suffering a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 defeat.

Ward’s world ranking of 168 is sure to improve when the list is updated on Monday and, with wild card entries at The Queen’s Club and Wimbledon on the horizon, he is closing in on his best ever ranking of 137, from April 2012.

Having also played a key role in Great Britain’s Davis Cup victory over USA in February – when he beat Sam Querrey in five sets – Ward feels 2014 could prove to be his best year yet.

“Definitely, it’s still early on in the year and there are good chances over the summer on a surface I really like playing on – grass,” he said. “I’ve had my best results on there in the past, so why not?

“Then it’s the American summer after that. It’s definitely a good chance in good tournaments to make a bigger breakthrough.

“I’m on my way back up to where I was [in the world rankings] and hopefully I’ll get past that as well.

“There’s a good few tournaments coming up, a few chances with some help from wild cards to get into the bigger events, and then you’re talking about big points. Things can change very quickly, especially if you play well, and it’s definitely a good opportunity.

“It’s going very well. I’ve got a coach working with me, which is what I’ve needed for a while. It sometimes takes a little while for you to find the right person and now a change has happened and it’s only positive.

“You can see it in my game and there’s still a lot of room for improvement, which is good. We’ll see how it goes, starting from Queen’s onwards.”

John Lloyd was the last British man to come through qualifying at the French Open in 1973, and Ward followed in his footsteps after beating the Slovenian Blaz Rola in the final round, saving two match points before triumphing 12-10 in a marathon decider.

“Obviously it’s nice to hear about [the history] but it’s not something I’m focusing on,” said Ward, who is an avid Arsenal fan.

“I was looking to win a few matches in qualifying and then I played a really high-level match against Robredo, who’s a great player on clay. It was a good experience and there were lessons learned, especially for the next few weeks coming up.

“Playing in long matches in Davis Cups in the past have definitely helped me. There was a long match in the last round of the qualifiers – 12-10 in the third set – and I think that experience that I had definitely helped.”

Ward will be spending the next few weeks back home in London as he prepares for the Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club – where he reached the semi-finals in 2011 - and then Wimbledon.

And, having previously been pitted against the likes of Marat Safin, Marcos Baghdatis and Michael Llodra in the opening round of the grass competitions – on top of his latest first-round clash with Robredo in Paris - he could do with finally getting some luck of the draw.

“I do, I’m glad you were the one who said it!” said Ward. “I don’t want to look like I’m making excuses but it is tough. Hopefully the draws will be a bit kinder and we’ll see what happens.”

John Lloyd was the last British man to come through qualifying at the French Open in 1973, and Ward followed in his footsteps after beating the Slovenian Blaz Rola in the final round, saving two match points before triumphing 12-10 in a marathon decider.

“Obviously it’s nice to hear about [the history] but it’s not something I’m focusing on,” said Ward, who is an avid Arsenal fan. “It was a good experience and there were lessons learned, especially for the next few weeks coming up.

“Playing in long matches in Davis Cups have definitely helped me. There was a long match in the last round of the qualifiers – 12-10 in the third set – and I think the experience that I had definitely helped.”

Ward will spend the next few weeks back home in London as he prepares for the Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club – where he reached the semi-finals in 2011 – and then Wimbledon.

And, having previously been pitted against the likes of Marat Safin, Marcos Baghdatis and Michael Llodra in the opening round of the grass competitions – on top of his latest first-round clash with Robredo in Paris – he could do with finally getting some luck of the draw.

“I do, I’m glad you were the one who said it!” said Ward. “I don’t want to look like I’m making excuses but it is tough. Hopefully the draws will be a bit kinder and we’ll see what happens.”

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