Woe Britannia: No English at Wimbledon as Soccer Team Falters
English sports fans might suffer their second blow of the summer today: After the last player with a connection to the country lost at Wimbledon their soccer team may be bounced out of the World Cup.
As tennis fans gather at the All England Club for the third day of the tournament, many will be keeping tabs on the national team, which is playing Slovenia in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, at 3 p.m. London time. The English have scored one goal in two games and need to win to be assured of advancing.
At Wimbledon, no English men made the draw for the first time in the event’s 133-year history. All five English women lost in the first round, which wrapped up yesterday. And the only remaining hope -- Yonkers, New York, native James Blake, whose mother is English -- was beaten in straight sets.
“It’s a great shame,” said Gill Moy, a 66-year-old retiree from Wirral, northwest England, who got up at 5:30 a.m. to line up outside the grounds of the All England Club for tickets. “It’s embarrassing that we need someone like James Blake. We should be producing our own players.”
England’s lack of success at Wimbledon has been overshadowed by the soccer team in the media. The team, ranked eighth in the world by governing body FIFA, played to ties with No. 14 U.S. and No. 30 Algeria.
“Never in the field of World Cup conflict has so little been offered by so few to so many,” the paper headlined on June 19.
England’s struggles are weighing on tennis fans, too.
“The team spirit is gone,” said Moy’s husband, Roger. “They’re all individuals and they are all doing it for themselves. There is a lack of a will to win.”
Blake, meanwhile, represented the only hope for English tennis fans after Alex Bogdanovic, Daniel Evans and Josh Goodall were knocked out in the qualifying stages. The 172nd-ranked Bogdanovic, Britain’s No. 2 after Scotsman Andy Murray, wasn’t given a wild card this year after losing all his eight previous first-round matches at Wimbledon.
Yesterday at the All England Club, Blake lost to Robin Haase of the Netherlands in straight sets: 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
“It’s shocking,” said Paul Handly, a 39-year-old baggage handler who was born in London and lives in Sydney. “All the money that’s put into the sport, and still they can’t produce anybody. We were supporting James, but there really should be more people from England in the tournament.”
The annual income from the Wimbledon championships, which rose 14 percent last year to 29.2 million pounds ($43.4 million), is invested in British tennis.
“Tennis is still regarded as an elitist sport here,” said Roger Moy. “It’s still quite expensive, and it’s taking a backseat in school to other things.”
Blake, 30, said he had hoped local support would get him through the opening round of the grass-court major. His mother, Betty, grew up in Banbury, Oxfordshire, about 81 miles (130 kilometers) north of London.
Ranked fourth in the world in 2006, the former Harvard University economics student has slumped to No. 109 in the rankings as he struggled with injuries.
“I’ve had some pretty good support at Wimbledon,” Blake said last week in an interview at a warm-up grass-court tournament in Eastbourne, England. His first match after a 10- week break from the ATP World Tour to mend tendinitis in his knees ended in a defeat to France’s Julien Benneteau.
“The secret’s out and people know that I am half- British,” said Blake. “It’s a good feeling to have fans here, too. My mom loves it, she loves when the newspapers pick up on it. It just reminds people that I am not just American and that I have some roots here.”
In second-round matches scheduled today, defending champion Roger Federer plays Serbian Ilija Bozoljac, while five-time champion Venus Williams faces Ekaterina Makarova of Russia. Andy Roddick, a runner-up to Federer last year, meets France’s Michael Llodra.
Murray, as a Scot the only player left in the draw from the British Isles, won 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 against the Czech Republic’s Jan Hajek. No Briton has won the men’s tournament since Fred Perry in 1936.
“It’s not great, is it?,” Murray said in a news conference.