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Young British players boost local hopes for homegrown Wimbledon champion

Rob Newell - CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

LONDON (AP) — The mini-Union Jack flags were flying high as Emma Raducanu closed out a dominant victory on the grass courts of Wimbledon.

“You're going all the way Emma!” was the assessment of one fan who broke the silence at No. 1 Court while Raducanu awaited an interview moments after her 6-1, 6-2 second-round victory over Elise Mertens on Wednesday.

British players not named Andy Murray have struggled to make a lasting impact at the All England Club in recent years, but there are flickers of hope these days.

All sorts of local treats are on tap for Thursday, when there's an important matchup outside the grounds, too, in Britain's national election. In all-British second-round encounters, Katie Boulter will play Harriet Dart before Jack Draper faces Cameron Norrie.

And first up on Centre Court will be Jacob Fearnley, a 22-year-old wild-card entry from Scotland, squaring off with seven-time champion Novak Djokovic.

Speaking of Scotland, Murray will also be on Centre Court when he plays doubles with his brother, Jamie, ahead of a mixed-doubles pairing with Raducanu later in the tournament. The two-time Wimbledon champion pulled out of the singles competition.

“There’s a good vibe around British tennis at the moment,” said Anne Keothavong, a former British player who is now the captain of her country's team in the Billie Jean King Cup.

Part of the current boost is because Wimbledon granted a whole bunch of wild-card invitations to local players — just like the other Grand Slams do.

Of the 12 British men in the Wimbledon singles draw this year — the most since there were 14 in 1978 — eight were wild-card entries.

Only one of those eight — Fearnley — got out of the first round. Fearnley now goes from Alejandro Moro Canas — he beat the No. 188-ranked Spaniard 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (12) on Tuesday — to Djokovic.

He was asked how to beat Djokovic, who has won a men's record 24 Grand Slam trophies.

“I have no idea," said Fearnley, who just finished playing college tennis at TCU. “I don’t think there’s many tactics going into the match.”

Murray's looming retirement could create a leadership gap, but Liam Broady is optimistic for the younger generation because he sees them learning lessons about life on tour at earlier ages.

“Jack (Draper) is a prime example of that, just been soaking up all the advice he can from Dan Evans and Andy Murray from a very young age,” said the 30-year-old Broady, who lost his first-round match Monday.

Normalizing big wins is another step, he said.

“Not getting too excited with wins against good players, understanding that you're a good player as well, and this is commonplace,” Broady said. “To be a good player, consistency is the most important thing, especially off the court. I think that’s what a lot of these guys have really learned.”

The big-serving Draper, 22 years old and seeded No. 28 at the All England Club, scored a big win over Carlos Alcaraz at Queen's Club in the Wimbledon buildup. He also won the Stuttgart Open last month to earn his first tour-level title.

Draper, who overtook Norrie as the highest-ranked British player, said Norrie is a friend but he “won’t like the fact that I’m British No. 1 now."

The 27-year-old Boulter, who has been limited by injuries in past years, beat Dart last month en route to defending her Nottingham Open title.

Wearing red-and-white England bucket hats at the Raducanu match, fans Dan Golding and Alex Tresadern said players like Raducanu — the 2021 U.S. Open champion who has been slowed by injuries in the past year — and Draper are giving a big pick-me-up to local tennis fans.

“It’s exciting. They're drawing crowds,” Golding said. “It’s a really exciting time to have something new coming through."

Also Wednesday, 22-year-old Sonay Kartal became the first British women’s qualifier to reach the third round since 1997. She gets to play Coco Gauff next.

There's also a good pipeline of young talent, said Keothavong, pointing to 15-year-old Hannah Klugman's run to the last round in Wimbledon qualifying.

“You need the strength in numbers," Keothavong said. "You look at any kind of strong tennis nation, that’s what they have, and the players, they push each other — they see what the others are doing.”

Maybe all the good vibes will carry over to Saturday when the England men's soccer team faces Switzerland in the European Championship quarterfinals.

Raducanu had likened her first-round victory to the England team's comeback win over Slovakia in the previous round.

“It was like winning ugly," Raducanu said. "It all counts.”


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