British tennis had a day to remember at Wimbledon on Tuesday as six more players reached the second round, making it the best performance in 25 years.
Heather Watson, Katie Boulter, Jack Draper, Ryan Peniston, Liam Broady and Alastair Gray joined Emma Raducanu, Andy Murray and Cameron Norrie in winning their opening matches.
Not since 1997 has Britain had nine representatives through to the second round of the singles, while Harriet Dart can make it 10 in her delayed match against Rebeka Masarova on Wednesday.
That would be a figure not seen since 1984 and further indication that, after years of relying on a few star names to paper over the cracks, there is finally some strength in depth emerging.
Of the ones who made it, only debutant Gray, who was delighted to beat former Wimbledon boys’ singles champion Tseng Chun-hsin 6-3 6-3 7-6 (3), was really a surprise winner.
The 24-year Londoner has made swift strides up the professional ranks since graduating from college in the United States last year but was ranked nearly 200 places lower than his opponent.
It was a particularly good day for coach Mark Taylor, who also guides Peniston, and was able to celebrate debut victories for both his charges.
Peniston’s 6-4 6-3 6-2 win over Henri Laaksonen continued his brilliant breakthrough summer, with the 26-year-old, who overcame cancer as a baby, reaching the quarter-finals at both Queen’s Club and Eastbourne.
He and Gray are planning to buy a house together after the tournament, and Peniston said: “It would be cool if we could find a place around this area to stay. We’re definitely looking for that. Although round here, in these times, I think I might have to win it (to afford one)!”
Watson battled until 10.40pm on Monday night to take Tamara Korpatsch to a deciding set and finished off the job well, winning 6-7 (7) 7-5 6-2.
The 30-year-old became emotional in her on-court interview, and said afterwards: “The last few years for me personally have been tough. I’ve had my ups and downs – mostly downs – like so many people have with the pandemic and stuff.
“Then it was just impossible to find joy on the tennis court with no fans. Being able to play my first match on Court One was really special.”
Boulter has enjoyed an excellent run of form on the grass after recovering from a leg injury, and she was the final British winner of the day, taking out France’s Clara Burel 7-5 6-3.
Broady looked like his chance might have gone when he trailed Lukas Klein by an early break in the fifth set but the Stockport player recovered well to win 4-6 6-3 7-5 6-7 (2) 6-3 and set up a rematch with Diego Schwartzman, who he lost to in the second round last year.
Expectations of Draper are high, especially from the 20-year himself, after the great strides he has made this season, including reaching the semi-finals in Eastbourne last week.
He recorded his maiden grand slam victory with a 6-4 6-4 7-6 (4) success against Belgian wild card Zizou Bergs.
Draper attributed the British success to a supportive but competitive atmosphere, saying: “All these guys are all my friends. Not only do we practise together, we go out together, we have a good time. All great guys. All want to improve and keep learning and get to the top of the sport.
“I like we’re all getting behind each other, want each other to do well. That’s a big part of the success at the moment.
“I’m a competitor myself. Definitely seeing others do well, even though I’m really happy for them, it definitely motivates me and gets me going. I want to match that and do better.
“I think the energy in British tennis at the moment is really good, really healthy competition for all the players.”
The only real disappointment of the day was a one-sided loss to Australian Jason Kubler for 28th seed Dan Evans, while Paul Jubb pushed Nick Kyrgios to five sets and there were also defeats for Katie Swan, Jay Clarke and Sonay Kartal.
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