As the majority of Great Britain relish the rise of Kyle Edmund and obsess over the well-being of Andy Murray, they seem to have forgotten about James Ward.
The 31-year-old’s name is mentioned every so often alongside the words ‘Davis Cup Hero’ – honouring his contribution to GB’s 2015 winning run at that particular event. But there has been much more to his career than this. The year 2015 as a whole was the current highlight of Ward’s career, seeing him reach a career-best ranking of world no. 89 and the third round of Wimbledon – where he went down 8-6 in the fifth to then-world no. 56 Vasek Pospisil.
From the heights, things came crashing down with alarming pace. Ward’s coach, Darren Tandy, passed away on Christmas Eve of the same year. And after an ensuing run of poor form, injury began to hit the Londoner regularly. After his initial physical woes sidelined him for nine months, Ward staged a mini comeback during the 2017 grass-court season – before further issues saw him resort to knee surgery.
Nevertheless, the Brit insists he has not been deterred from pursuing his career.
“[I didn’t struggle] with motivation, not at all,” he insisted on Monday. “You just have to be careful with your knee, you know. It takes a long time, with surgery and stuff.
“It’s difficult. You have to expect it, and it takes longer than you’d hope most of the time, but now I feel like it’s good and ready.”
The Londoner made his return to competitive tennis in February, at the ITF Futures event in Shrewsbury – where he lost in round two. He has played three ITF events and four ATP Challenger events in the aftermath, including his current tournament at the inaugural edition of the Loughborough Trophy.
In Loughborough, Ward has already demonstrated that he still possesses the talent that took him to the Queen’s Club semifinals in 2011. Opening his campaign with an ace against compatriot Lloyd Glasspool, he fired many more down the ‘T’ to both clinch love holds and consistently keep himself a step ahead throughout the first set. He shrugged off his missed opportunities – a couple of them credit to some great drop shots from his no. 452-ranked opponent – and kept his passing shots low to break for 6-4.
From then on, the victory appeared inevitable as he charged through the remaining games – a medical timeout for Glasspool doing nothing to stall his rhythm as he sealed a 6-4 6-1 victory.
“I served really well throughout the whole match,” Ward reflected of the win. “I returned well and made a lot of balls, put a lot of pressure on him. I think I was a bit unlucky not to break him a few more times in the first set, as well. But yeah, it was good.”
He added: “Starting on Monday when [other players are] getting a Wednesday start is not ideal, but that’s what happens. It was a good win.”
Despite his obvious ability, Ward is yet to notch back-to-back main draw wins this season – meaning his upcoming clash with America’s Christian Harrison will be a big one. The no. 3 seed battled past Alessandro Bega 6-3 1-6 6-1 on Tuesday morning, and currently sits at a career-high ranking of world no. 215. Like Ward, he knows all about dealing with injury.
“It’s going to be a tough match, because obviously he’s a proven player, been ranked really high,” the American said of the forthcoming encounter. “I have to be ready.”
Whether or not Ward himself is ready for that clash, he at least looks on his way back to form. And, most importantly, he is totally confident in his ability.
“My goal at this point is just to get back healthy, because I feel my tennis is good enough,” he said. “It’s always been problems with my knee, and a few injuries here and there. But I just want to stay healthy and see what happens.”
And as long as he remains motivated, anything could happen.