Ward seals a Wimbledon wild card as county stars think big

Northampton tennis ace Alex Ward has earned a wild card into the main draw at Wimbledon
Northampton tennis ace Alex Ward has earned a wild card into the main draw at Wimbledon

Northamptonshire’s four most competitive performers are set to tackle a range of high profile targets in the near future as the summer tennis season basks in a national glare.

Alex Ward, Jack Haworth, Joe Tyler and Dermot Bailey are all poised to feature in events which could propel their recognition onto a wider audience.

Wimbledon gets underway on June 27 and 26-year-old Ward has finally made the first round draw after years of trying.

He has achieved his long-time career goal of breaking into the top 250 men’s players in the world and the former Northampton School For Boys pupil received a wild card for the main event yesterday (Wednesday).

In the last few weeks he has made a seamless transition from hard court surfaces back to grass, ready for the pre-Wimbledon season.

Back in this country a fortnight ago he secured two valuable wins over players who are ranked in the top 150 in the world, beating Colombian Alexander Falla 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 as well as Michael Berrer from Germany 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 before losing in Manchester against German former world number 79 Peter Gojowczyk 3-6, 6-7.

Last week he moved on to tournament action at Surbiton where his first round tie saw him pitted against Chinese player and seventh seed Di Wu which brought a 1-6, 6-7 loss.

His father Richard, an experienced coach in his own right, and a county player of many years standing, said: “His recent tournament 
wins have seen him rise to a world ranking of 242 which is as high as he has ever been before.

“This put him in the frame for a wild card but nothing was guaranteed as the British player ranked 230 didn’t get one last year.

“Alex is one of the few British players who is versatile as to performing on court surface.”

In addition to Ward, Corby’s Jack Haworth, back in this country again for the past three weeks after his first two years studying and playing at from Brown University in the USA, had thrown his cap into the ring for a wild card while 17-year-old Great Oakley player Joe Tyler will be bidding to get into one of the junior Wimbledon events.

Bailey’s mid-term aim is to reach the Paralympics in Rio in September and after recently representing Great Britain in Tokyo he will shortly be flying to Germany for an ITF event.

But ‘Team Bailey’ is now fully focused on building up the fifth-ranked British wheelchair player and included in his line-up is sports psychologist Dr Karl Steptoe who is contracted as part of his consultancy mix with golfers, footballers and disabled wheelchair tennis players to the Leicester City Academy, working with players between the ages of 9-18 for the last three years.

Steptoe sees Bailey once a month to help work on building mental strength areas of his game, not a bad achievement as he lives in Canterbury.

Yet the pair talk on a frequent basis and Skype one another when the Kettering-based 22-year-old is playing in tournaments abroad.

Ironically, while Bailey’s own football interest as a Newcastle United supporter has been somewhat troubled of late, Steptoe has also had to deal with upset, despite his work focus, as a Tottenham Hotspur supporter.

He said; “I found myself supporting Leicester’s quest for the title all season but was disappointed when Spurs threw it away.”

Reflecting on Bailey, he said: “I met Dermot when I was working for the Tennis Foundation and it has continued from there.

“Contrary to popular belief, sports psychology isn’t all about fault fixing, we concentrate on emotion, attention and motivation.

“Dermot is such an honest lad which tends to help and save a lot of time as you are not constantly trying to get under the layers to solve problems.

“In this country the need for sports psychology is still seen as something of a weakness but this isn’t always the case.”

Bailey’s team is now being made up by Burton Latimer personal trainer Richie Boyle, who is intent on building up Bailey’s upper body strength and shoulders to help the player propel himself around the court and pull himself back into his chair when he stretches to make a shot.

Coach Mark Taylor is the person pulling all of these elaborate strands together, a complex mix which will hopefully produce a Paralympics performer.

And he summed up the process by saying: “If you are working with people who truly care, it is more than half the battle.”