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Sunday, June 21, 2009

British hope or British hopes?

Great Britain v Austria - Davis Cup World Group Playoff Besides Andy Murray, there seems to be no Briton capable of mounting a challenge at Wimbledon. True or false?

Murray might be on the cusp of conquering the tennis world but behind him it seems no amount of rashly-proclaimed bright new dawns can boost the ailing fortunes of the British men.

To say Murray stands alone is an understatement. From his lofty peak of world number three, he will barely be able to pick out the waving arms of his team-mates who languish at the other end of the rankings.

It used to be that the British women's game was the butt of all the jokes: now, with Anne Keothavong ensconced in the top 50 and three more players on the verge of the top 100, it is positively flourishing.

Murray's main back-up, meanwhile, remains the under-achieving Alex Bogdanovic, all but banished from the Davis Cup squad after a series of below-par performances and currently at a low 189 in the world.

Things got so bad, indeed, in March captain John Lloyd introduced a Davis Cup play-off system that would effectively give the winner the right to represent their nation in the Europe/Africa Zone tie against Ukraine.

It seems likely Murray will once again be left to shoulder the burden of the nation's expectation from a very early stage at Wimbledon this year.

Seeking to turn the form-book on its head, here are four of the unlikely lads, all of whom needed wild cards to play at Wimbledon:

Alex Bogdanovic: The former bright junior flirted with the top 100 but has not won a match in seven attempts at Wimbledon, nor a Davis Cup live rubber in six. Dropped from the team by John Lloyd and now slumped to world 189, it seems time has finally run out for Bogdanovic.

Josh Goodall: A fine future was tipped for Goodall when he qualified for both Wimbledon and the US Open in 2006. But, despite clawing his way inside the top 200, his career did not take the expected strides and he headed towards the 2009 grasscourt season with hopes flickering as to his top-level future.

James Ward: Ward came from nowhere to win three matches to qualify for Queen's last year and stunningly took a set off Marat Safin. He insists a place in the top 100 is the least of his ambitions and a recent win in a Challenger tournament on clay in America was certainly a rarity for a British player. In 24-year-old Ward, perhaps, exists the best hope of a Briton to follow Murray up the ranks.

Daniel Evans: Formerly Britain's top junior, 19-year-old Evans has made steady progress in the senior ranks, winning a Challenger Tour event in Jersey this year and reaching a career-high ranking of 308. The jury is still out, but one of the brighter hopes.

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