Sometimes guts are not enough. Liam Broady gave an extraordinary display of tenacity on No 1 court when, on the very lip of elimination, he refused to yield to the inevitable, battling to the last to make it to the second week of Wimbledon. Four times he faced match point against the Australian Alex de Minaur and four times he wrestled hope back, the crowd roaring his every delay. But ultimately, no matter the depth of his determination, he could not confound inevitability.
“I felt like the classic Jimmy Connors thing,” he said. “I didn't lose the match, I just ran out of time.”
He was being wry. He knew as much as anyone that quality has a habit of coming out on top. And De Minaur is quality all right. The player reckoned the fastest around court in the current game, he is enjoying his own private Ashes series at the All England Club. He knocked out his second Brit on the bounce when he added the scalp of Broady to that of Jack Draper. Not that his regular elimination of her countrymen necessarily cheers up his girlfriend Katie Boulter.
“She tries to stay as neutral as she can,” he smiled in victory.
But what will have pleased the locals in the bar of the Outback Hotel in Lightening Ridge, Queensland, all the more about his bout of Brit bashing is that his victory was achieved in the teeth of a No 1 court crowd bawling its support for his opponent.
“Yeah, it's been obviously tough playing two Brits, but I've done everything I could,” he said. “Actually I felt quite a warm welcome. So I'm just appreciative of that, and hopefully I can keep it going and get an even bigger crowd support for the next couple of matches.”
In truth, on paper, Broady had little chance in this confrontation. He is ranked 132nd in the world, De Minaur is 27th; he is the recipient of a wild card this Wimbledon, De Minaur is the 19th seed; in his career, the 28-year-old Broady has won the grand total of zero tour titles; at 21, De Minaur already has five singles and one doubles win to his name.
On court too, the odds were against him. The problem he faced was that his opponent is a class act: strong on the baseline, quick on his feet, with a devastatingly quick serve, De Minaur has that priceless combination of good eye and smart racket skills. Temperamentally too, he is the antithesis of his countryman Nick Kyrgios. Respectful, polite, wholly lacking in look-at-me histrionics, he is what the Aussies call a good bloke.
More to the point, he is ferocious on this surface. That much was evident as play got underway. Broady was all grunt and bash, fist pump and roar; De Minaur exuded subtle movement and manipulation of the ball. Plus, he has something else Broady lacks (and by that we don’t mean Boulter cheering him on from the sidelines). He has the gift of being able to manipulate events to his advantage. Whatever Broady threw at him (and by the end that included not just the kitchen sink, but his dishwasher and microwave too), he always looked as if he had the answer.
There was a sense of what direction this confrontation was heading when the Australian broke the Englishman’s serve to love in the sixth game of the first set, which he had wrapped up 6-3 within half an hour. The ace count was indicative: 6-0 to the Aussie.
The second set went much the same way: Broady effortful, De Minaur smart; Broady occasionally earning himself an unexpected point, De Minaur picking up the ones that counted. And the third set seemed to be rapidly heading for an inevitable conclusion, De Minaur breaking early.
And then suddenly, from nowhere, Broady found a game to match his spirit. 5-3 down and facing a swift meeting with the £104,000 third round loser’s cheque, he broke the Australian’s serve. In the stands the crowd were suddenly on their feet, responding to his cry of “let’s go” with a collective bellow that tested the court’s superstructure.
It was the very definition of a late, late show. And after the match he revealed there was a technical reason behind it. He found that all of his rackets he had brought on court were a little too lightly strung to counter De Minaur’s wicked serve. So he asked the umpire if he might send one of them off court to be tightened up.
“The racket only came back once I was a break down in the third,” he said. “I brought it out and I just felt a lot more comfortable playing. I felt like the ball was doing what I was trying to tell it to do.”
My how Broady tried. He never for a moment gave up, roaring to the last. But, even with his freshened-up equipment, it was a largely hopeless exercise. De Minaur was simply too strong, too canny, too skilful for him. This Australian is the real thing.