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Friday, June 29, 2012
Waiting for another Brit to win Wimbledon

By Sandra Harwitt
Special to espnW

It's hard not to admire British tennis fans. They've kept their famous stiff upper lip intact while remaining dedicated to the sport despite a longer-than-three-decade Grand Slam champion drought.

It was back in 1977 when "our Ginny" -- Virginia Wade -- slipped a pink cardigan over her traditional white tennis dress to receive the Wimbledon trophy from Queen Elizabeth, who was making a rare royal appearance at the All England Club.

The disappointment has lasted even longer in the men's game. It's been 76 years since Fred Perry won back-to-back Grand Slam trophies at Wimbledon and U.S. Nationals in 1936, the final two of eight career major victories. Perry ended up turning his back on the Brits by moving to the U.S., changing his citizenship and fighting as an American in World War II.

Heather Watson
Heather Watson's quest to win Wimbledon ends with third-round loss to Agnieszka Radwanska.

Although a woman was the last Briton to proudly take home a Grand Slam title, in recent times it's the British men who have made the headlines.

John Lloyd, the first husband of Chris Evert, reached the Australian Open final in December 1977, and Canadian turned Briton Greg Rusedski was a U.S. Open finalist in 1997.

More recently, the Brits spent 12 years urging the serve-and-volleying Tim Henman to come through for them. His best: four Wimbledon semifinals, final-four showings at the French and U.S. Opens and a career-high rank of No. 4.

The burden to become a Grand Slam champion these days has fallen to Andy Murray, already a three-time Grand Slam finalist. If Murray succeeds, the famous Henman Hill, where fans watch matches on a big screen at the All England Club, could be renamed Murray Mountain.

In the women's arena, however, the Brits might have to wait even longer.

Six British subjects were in the Wimbledon main draw this year: wild-card recipients Laura Robson, Naomi Broady and Johanna Konta and direct entries Heather Watson, Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha.

The last of the six standing was Watson, who saw her Wimbledon hopes end in Friday's third round when third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland scored a 6-0, 6-2 win.

As for the rest of the English contingent, Konta, Broady and Robson went out in the first round. Keothavong and Baltacha survived to the second round.

Watson, a 20-year-old from Guernsey, an island in the English Channel between England and France, posted the best Englishwoman's showing at Wimbledon since Baltacha, who reached the third round a decade ago. Sam Smith was the last British woman to see the Wimbledon fourth round in 1998. And Jo Durie was the last to reach the quarterfinals in 1984.

Despite the misfortune of the British women to date, the 97th-ranked Robson and 103rd-ranked Watson offer a glimmer of promise that has captured the imagination of the English tennis fans.

Robson, 18, and Watson produced impressive junior careers. Robson won the 2008 Wimbledon junior girls' title and Watson the 2009 U.S. Open junior girls' trophy.

"I think with Laura and Heather being our younger players that they're very exciting prospects and are both very different in their own way," said British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray, who is Andy Murray's mother. "We have in Laura a big, streaky lefty and with Heather a right-handed counterpuncher.

"What I've seen in the last three months with them is a good change in focus and a good change in attitude. There seems to be a real understanding of what they need to do to get to the next stage. And I think you have to take it in stages. They're both hovering around 100 in the world, and they need to be looking at: What does 50 look like? What do I need to do better?"

Robson said that although Murray has been the Fed Cup captain only this season, she's taking a proactive role with the players. And they're probably hoping that some of the magic she imparted on her son might rub off on them.

"We've seen her virtually every day," Robson said. "She's watched all the matches and she's first off emails to say, 'Well done, you played well.'"

Watson called her first match played on Wimbledon's Centre Court, a 6-2, 6-1 first-round win over 55th-ranked Iveta Benesova of the Czech Republic, an "unbelievable experience."

"I've been playing tennis almost my whole life, for moments like those. It's just my dream," she said. "I think winning these matches in the Slams is giving me more confidence, making me want to go deeper into the tournament, and I'm gaining a lot of experience and learning a lot from it."