Five years on from Davis Cup success, James Ward can still hear the roars despite his recent struggles
- James Ward has fond memories of Great Britain’s 2015 Davis Cup success
- It is approaching the fifth anniversary of Ward and Andy Murray beating USA
- Ward has had tough times since due to injuries and the death of his coach
Five years on from the victory that would facilitate one of British tennis’s greatest triumphs, James Ward was flogging away on court somewhere in Ohio.
While Andy Murray gave the latest update on his injury woes, London cabbie’s son Ward made the second round of this week’s Challenger-level event in Columbus.
The coming days see the fifth anniversary of when the two combined to defeat the USA in the first round of the Davis Cup, setting GB on the way to becoming one of the last winners of the old competition in its historic format.
James Ward has vivid and fond memories of Great Britain’s Davis Cup success in 2015
Ward (second right) teamed up with Andy Murray to defeat the USA in the first round of the competition
Things were to go in a very different direction for Ward not long after his famous win over John Isner in Glasgow that made the whole run possible.
The untimely death of his coach later that year, and a sequence of injuries, meant his extraordinary 6-7, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6, 15-13 victory over the giant-serving American No1 would prove an outlier display.
The deafening roars that accompanied it still ring in his ears. ‘I’m very much a London boy, and there was this mainly Scottish crowd going mad,’ he recalls. ‘It’s the kind of thing that stays with you when you go through the difficult times, and there have been a few of them.’
With the champion Bryan brothers playing in the doubles, Britain needed to eke out one point against the head to supplement Murray in the singles, and get through the first round.
‘Andy won his first singles easily, and with the reverse singles coming we knew he had a very good record against John, so everyone was aware one other win would do it,’ says Ward.
‘Beating Isner didn’t happen by accident, I had done two years’ working with Darren Tandy [his Australian coach]. I believed in him, bought into what he was telling me. I was in a good place going in, very fit.
‘When you play against a guy like John you know he’s going to be aggressive on the return, because he is so confident about holding his own serve. He knows the pressure is constantly building on you because he is holding all the time.
Ward is congratulated by Murray following his impressive victory against John Isner
‘In Davis Cup I pick someone to focus on and in this case it was Andy sitting on the bench. In the last two sets I was looking at him all the time. He was very intense on the side, telling me to stay up the court, not to get pushed back.
‘You sort of choose which way it might go against John’s serve and hope that you’ve got it right. I was doing that well, and even at two sets down I always felt I was in it.’
At 14-13 Ward broke to love to clinch victory, sparking mayhem.
When he made the third round of Wimbledon to make the top 100 things were looking good.
It all changed at the US Open. Ward said: ‘I’d lost there and on the way home to Australia Darren had a stroke, and it emerged that he was suffering from colon cancer. I’d done well at Wimbledon and won a Challenger in Bangalore that October and then it became clear how serious it was for Darren.’
Since the Davis Cup success, Ward has struggled due to injuries and the death of his coach
Less than three months later he was attending his coach’s funeral. ‘It knocked me back massively in every way. He had been not just my coach and mentor but a great friend and father figure.’
To compound matters, that also heralded more than two years of persistent knee injuries, keeping him out for so long he even tried his hand at being a football agent. A marriage came to an end.
His knee having improved, Ward — just turned 33 — continues battling away. ‘I guess I still love the feeling of winning, when it happens. It’s tough to find that anywhere else. I feel I’m playing better now and you have the motivation of getting back to that level I was.’
That would be the form he showed against Isner, of whom he said: ‘I knew John reasonably well and we got on fine because we’d trained together at Saddlebrook in Florida. But he didn’t want to talk to me for a while after that match. We speak now but it never comes up and that’s completely normal.’
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