Davis Cup champion James Ward calls time on career
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Former British No.2 and 2015 Davis Cup champion, James Ward, has today announced his retirement from professional tennis. We take a look back and celebrate Ward's 15-year career.
Where it all began
Ward started playing tennis at the age of nine at Temple Fortune tennis club before moving onto Oakleigh Park courts in Barnett. When James was 16, he left his Islington base and moved to Spain for four years where he trained at Juan Carlos Ferrero Academy, in Villena near Valencia. Ward made his first appearance on the professional circuit in 2007 at the Valencia Open, and went on to compete at all levels of the ATP singles circuit, including all four Grand Slams.
In May 2009, Ward became the first British player since Tim Henman in 1995 to win an ATP Challenger Tour event on clay in Florida. Two years later, he made his first big international splash at Queens, as a wildcard ranked 216 upsetting No.4 seed Stan Wawrinka and defending champion Sam Querrey to reach the semi-finals.
Flying the flag for Great Britain
Representing Great Britain featured strongly in Ward’s storied career. In 2009 he participated in a Davis Cup selection play off at the LTA’s National Tennis Centre where he narrowly fell to Chris Eaton 21-19 in the deciding set of a five-set match that lasted six hours, 40 minutes. Ward’s own Davis Cup debut came in March 2010, away to Lithuania, where he became colour holder number 286, winning his first ever rubber 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 to Laurynas Grigelis.
In 2013, after a gruelling five set Davis Cup rubber against Dmitry Tursunov that was pivotal in a victory over Russia, Ward needed intravenous fluids in hospital. It was the first time since 1930 that Britain had fought back from being 2-0 down in Cup tie.
2015 was perhaps the London native’s most memorable year. It started in Glasgow where Ward scored a crucial win in the opening round over John Isner of the USA, giving Britain a critical 2-0 lead. Ward was ranked 81 places below his world Top 20 opponent but his characteristic determination enabled him to fight back from a two-set deficit and win 6-7, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6, 15-13 after three minutes short of five hours.
James played in the quarter-finals against France and was named in the team for the Davis Cup final against Belgium. After the triumph of the Davis Cup, the GB team received the BBC Sports Personality Team of the Year Award.
LTA Head of Men’s Tennis and Davis Cup Captain Leon Smith recalls: “James has played such a big part for our Davis Cup team for a decade, whether it was in Coventry 2013 where he started our comeback against Russia or that famous Friday night in Glasgow two years later, he continually left it all out there. That remains one of our most favourite moments in any tie where he came back from two sets down to beat John Isner with a win that really set us off on our path to winning the title.
"Being a London lad, playing at Queens and Wimbledon meant so much to him every year and I’m so glad he went on to achieve his dream of finally becoming a Top 100 player. Wardy has been a great servant to our GB Davis Cup team and always wore the flag with immense pride. We wish him all the very best for the next chapter in his life.”
Wimbledon heroics and career high ranking
Another high point occurred in 2015, when Ward reached the last 32 at Wimbledon (first time since 2002 two GB men go that far) before falling to Vasek Pospisil in a 14-game fifth set decision, a result that saw him finally crack the Top 100, reach a career-best No.89 and become British No.2. The following year he played the world No.1 on Centre Court, Novak Djokovic, who had just become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major singles titles simultaneously.
After that Ward’s career was beset with challenges such as losing his long-time coach Darren Tandy due to cancer and his own injuries (mainly knee) which, despite many valiant attempts, hampered his return to the top of the game.
Looking back on Ward's career, LTA CEO Scott Lloyd reflected: “James’ career highlights, particularly those memorable matches at key moments playing for his country, will always remain etched in our minds.
"His career is a testament to hard work and what inspiration can do for you. We wish him the very best in his future endeavours and hope he stays connected with the sport in the years to come."
The final words in his story come from Ward himself: “It’s never an easy decision to finish playing but I feel now is the right time for me. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in tennis and grateful for the experiences and amazing people I’ve met around the world.
"Thank you to my family for their sacrifices over the years and their unwavering support throughout my career. A special mention for two coaches who changed my life and career, Tony Cascales and Darren Tandy. Both of whom had a major impact on my tennis and who I am as a person, I will forever be grateful to the many coaches/trainers and friends who have helped me on my way at different times, thank you, you know who you are.
"From camping outside Wimbledon for a ticket at the age of 10, to go on and play the World Number 1 on Centre Court, breaking into the ATP Top 100 and winning the Davis Cup representing Great Britain… I can live with that! Now it’s time to enjoy life in a different way and I look forward to what’s next.”