James Ward reflects on Great Britain’s journey to Davis Cup final
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Great Britain stand on the verge of history in the Davis Cup as they prepare for this weekend’s final, bidding to win the crown for the first time in 79 years.
Britain last won the trophy in 1936 and have not reached the final since 1978. However, victory is finally within their grasp again as Leon Smith’s squad, led by Andy Murray, get ready to play five decisive matches against Belgium in Ghent.
Camden’s James Ward remembers where it all began. The 28-year-old, from Eversholt Street near Euston station, played his first Davis Cup tie in March 2010 against Lithuania in the Group 2 Europe/Africa tier, and three months later he was part of the team that beat Turkey to avoid relegation to the lowest level of the competition.
Since then, Britain have gradually worked their way up into the highest bracket, the World Group. And, having exited in the quarter-finals against Italy in April 2014, they have reached this year’s final.
The path has not been easy: Murray and co have beaten three strong tennis nations – the United States, France and Australia - to secure their showdown with Belgium.
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Ward, the world No 155, was not selected to play in the semi-final triumph over Australia, but he has more than played his part since 2010.
His epic five-set victory over the current world No11 John Isner was a pivotal moment in March’s triumph over USA and, although he has been nervously waiting to discover if he will be picked against Belgium ahead of tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) draw, he is a loyal member of a squad which has earned its shot at glory the hard way.
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“It’s been a long road,” said Ward. “It’s been tough, there’s been a lot of ugly places to play at, in front of not too many people – but things have changed.
“We’ve gradually worked our way back up from places and countries that nobody really knows of, especially in tennis. It’s great to suddenly be in the final and hopefully we can create a bit more history.
“[It’s come about through] a lot of hard work, winning a lot of matches at venues where no-one really came to watch. It wasn’t on telly. A few days it was on Eurosport but apart from that. Now it’s covered everywhere, worldwide.
“Things have changed massively.We’ve played through the years when not everyone wanted to play, and put a lot of time and dedication into the competition. This year it’s really paid off and hopefully we get the big reward we’re all looking for.
“The original goal was to get into the World Group and we did that a couple of years ago. We played in the quarter-finals last year, away against Italy on clay, which was a very difficult tie – and I think we learned a lot from that. We’ve come back strongly this year and the group’s stayed together. It’s been the same guys in every tie and it’s been a good experience.”
The Davis Cup has tended to bring the best out of Ward, who has been the hero for Britain on a number of occasions.
“I’ve played a lot of five-set matches,” he told the BBC. “It seems like every time I’m playing in the Davis Cup I’m playing five-set matches.
“I played [Malek] Jaziri when we played Tunisia in Bolton [in March 2011] and that was 8-6 in the fifth. Away in San Diego against Sam Querrey [in 2014], that was a big match for me as well, after a poor start. To turn that around was a big moment.
“Then obviously at the beginning of this year to beat John Isner in Glasgow in five sets, 15-13, was the best win of my career and it just so happens that it keeps happening in Davis Cup matches.”
After playing such a key role in the journey, Ward would be highly disappointed if Britain captain Smith chooses to give the second singles spot alongside Murray to world No 100 Kyle Edmund instead of him. But, whether he is on court or cheering from the stands, he remains part of a squad that has its sights set on international glory.
“I was disappointed to not play in the last tie,” he said. “I went away, worked hard and played a different schedule to what I’d been playing in the couple of months before. I got quite a few wins on the board.
“I’ve played on clay for the last couple of weeks, which was a tough travel schedule for me – not ideal – but I did it to give myself a chance to play, and hopefully it pays off and I get to play in the final.
“I understand it now a little bit, when your friends and family come to watch, how nervous they get and how much it means. It depends on the match a little bit, how important it is, how much we need that rubber, but in general it’s quite nerve-wracking to be around the whole weekend.”
Belgium have elected to play on clay – Murray’s least favourite surface – but Ward said: “I don’t mind it, I’ve won tournaments on it before. I’ve played well on it over the years, I grew up in Spain playing on it so it’s something I’m familiar with.
“I haven’t played on it for a long time, this was the first time since the French Open this year, so it’s taken a little while to adjust, but I’m feeling a bit better on it now.
“It’s their favourite surface I think, especially for [David] Goffin. I’m not too sure about the other guys but they can all play on it. They’ve put it down because they rate themselves as having a better chance on clay, but with Andy in your team you’re always going in with a good shot.”