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No intense pressure just yet, but Johanna and Kyle still have much work to do

By Edmund Curran

If Johanna Konta is ever to reach a Wimbledon final, she will need more than the big serve and inconsistent ground strokes she showed yesterday.

Court Two, where she only narrowly defeated a Russian with an unpronounceable name, was tense in the extreme as Konta struggled to find her game and only escaped by virtue of her fine serve to scrape home 7-5 7-6.

It was the day British hopes were also kept alive by Kyle Edmund, who was more impressive than Konta in his match against Australian Alex Bolt.

It was also ladies' day when traditionally last year's champion opens proceedings on the Centre Court. Strictly Come Dancing hostess Tess Daly looked on from the Royal Box as last year's champion, Garbine Muguruza, swatted away another Brit, Naomi Broady, in straight sets.

Whether Miss Muguruza retains her title and earns £2.25m remains to be seen.

Having attained equality in the distribution of Wimbledon's staggering £34m prize fund, the women appear to be seeking more.

Why, some ask, should Wimbledon always open with the defending men's champion on court at 1pm on the first Monday? And what about the finals? Should the ladies' final not get pride of place on the final Sunday rather than being relegated to Saturday every year?

Much, it seems, depends upon the television networks and whom they believe are the top box office attractions. The fact the women play the best of three sets to the men's five sets and that often the ladies' final lasts little more than an hour may be a determining factor.

Of course, a British woman in a final would draw a huge audience for the BBC. Konta, in her quarter-final in 2017, was watched by 7.4 million, the largest audience for a ladies' match this century.

On the evidence of her performance yesterday, she has some improvement to make to surpass last year's feat and also to maintain her high world ranking which her Wimbledon points guaranteed. Interviewed yesterday after her match, she acknowledged that she had had a tough day.

"It was a great match for me to have. It was a great match for me to battle through until literally the very last point.

"I take forward the incredible experience and memories of last year. But I'm here as a 2018 Johanna Konta. I'm playing it on the triumphs and the challenges of here and now. I'm just looking forward to really fighting my way through as many rounds as I can."

Edmund, 23-years-old, who has replaced Andy Murray as British No.1, also has a long way to go but yesterday he continued to travel in the right direction with an impressive three-set victory against Bolt.

Outside Centre Court, a spectator wore a t-shirt with the names of Tim Henman and Andy Murray stroked out and the slogan 'Edmund next' emblazoned underneath.

Such optimism is premature given that Edmund has yet to get beyond the second round of Wimbledon but among the 40,000 crowd who were blessed with another day of Wimbledon sunshine, hope springs eternal.

It is certainly asking a lot of him to take a seeding of only 21 to the final stages this year, especially as he is just one of many would-be stars in Wimbledon's fine firmament.

At least neither Konta nor Edmund have yet to experience the media pressure that was heaped on first Henman and then Murray. Expectations are not high at this stage for either of them.

The same cannot be said for Rafael Nadal, who began his challenge on Centre Court by beating the Israeli Dudi Sela in three sets. That said, he was not as impressive as the master of grass, Roger Federer, in his opening game on Monday.

However, the chances of Nadal and Federer repeating their epic 2008 final are enhanced already by their form to date. Bring it on, is the hope of many in the tennis world of Wimbledon.

Belfast Telegraph

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