James Ward battled through the tiredness to win an epic match on the first day of the UK Pro Series Classic Week.
The wildcard entry for the inaugural event toppled Julian Cash in a thrilling tie break at St. George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club, edging the 23-year-old out 11-9 to mark his maiden appearance in Weybridge with a win.
The world No.273 was made to fight on the indoor courts by an opponent a full decade younger than him, having lost the first set before turning the tables to send out a statement of intent to his 11 Classic Week rivals.
Ward only touched down from the United States five days ago and was thrilled to get over the line after struggling to sleep since his return to the UK.
“I’d just come back from the States so it was a bit of a change - it was the first time I’d played on these courts, these guys have been playing for weeks here and it’s different,” the 33-year-old said.
“I got back five days ago so it’s been a bit of a quick turnaround - I’m still struggling to sleep a bit but that could be because of the heat!
“It’s just about adjusting for the first few days, trying to find my game and getting used to the ball changes and stuff. It’s very different to what I’ve been used to.”
Ward is one of 24 leading players currently duelling it out at St. George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club in the widely-billed Premier League of tennis, who are split into two pools of six ahead of finals weekend on August 15th and 16th.
And there’s a star-studded array of fellow British talent joining him at the salubrious sporting location, with Harriet Dart, Jodie Burrage and Eden Silva in the women’s draw and Arthur Fery, Alastair Gray and Liam Broady in the men’s.
The unique format was devised by Andy Murray’s coach Jamie Delgado in conjunction with sports media agency River Media Partners, with Delgado also a member of the LTA Professional Tennis Advisory Group and managing player liaison on the ground.
Fellow wildcard entry Dart is back fighting fit and revelled in getting off to a flyer in her first match of the week.
Hampstead’s star of Wimbledon in 2019 - Dart reached the third round - eased past British rival Freya Christie, taking to the Surrey courts with ease after previously competing in the Battle of the Brits in Roehampton.
The 24-year-old was struggling with a groin injury during lockdown but reckons those troubles are behind her as she eyes up a tilt at the maiden Pro Series trophy.
“I was struggling a lot with my groin so we were just trying to steadily build up - I did play lots of matches at Battle of the Brits but they were mostly doubles,” she said.
“I’m getting my fitness back, and it’s just match tightness - when you play a lot of matches you feel very confident going forward.
“For me, it’s just about being able to get through this week, feeling good about my body and try and improve for these matches as they come.”
Siblings Liam and Naomi Broady also got their Classic Weeks off to a positive start with wins over Mark Whitehouse and Sonay Kartal, while Emma Raducanu eased past the youthful Nadia Rawson.
Ryan Peniston beat Henry Patten 6-4 6-3 to seize bragging rights against the fellow Essex player, while there was also a tie-break triumph for Anton Matusevich as he held his nerve to beat the experienced Dan Cox.
Burrage beat Eliz Maloney, Emily Appleton continued her momentum to beat Sarah Beth Grey and Gray also got his Classic Week off to a strong start with a straightforward triumph over Billy Harris.
And the talented Fery toppled Luke Johnson in two sets - winning 6-0 in the second - while Silva rounded the day off in style with a confident win over Emily Arbuthnott.
12 of the UK’s top women and men have qualified through the UK Pro Series for the UK Pro Classic - www.ukproseries.com. The final 3 days of competition will have national free to air coverage: Freeview Channel 64, Sky Channel 422, Virgin Media Channel 553, TalkTalkTV Channel 64, BT TV Channel 64 and on download app FreeSportsPlayer.tv