Aljaz Bedene, the Slovenia-born British No2 who was playing his first match at Wimbledon since qualifying for citizenship in March, found home advantage to his liking after completing a five-set victory over the Czech veteran Radek Stepanek.
The court temperatures may have been nudging towards record levels but Britain’s men avoided the traditional first-round meltdown, with James Ward also winning to ensure there are more than three of them in the second round for the first time since 2006.
The pair join Liam Broady and Andy Murray. Bedene battled hard over five sets to overcome Stepanek, the 36-year-old who was once the eighth best player in the world, 7-5, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Bedene won the crucial break in the ninth game of the final set with a deft drop shot and then nervelessly served out the match to the acclaim of his new fans. He said he had tears in his eyes thinking about what victory meant.
“I felt amazing, got goosebumps. Yes, all the emotions came out when I lifted my arms after,” he said. “I don’t know if the British passport just help me get through today. But definitely the crowd helped me get through with it.”
Ranked 74, the 25-year-old received a lukewarm response from some of his new team-mates when he switched nationalities but was embraced by Murray, who voiced hopes he could help raise standards in British tennis with him.
Bedene has lived in Welwyn Garden City for the past seven years, since being brought to Britain by the coach John Morris. Bedene hit a total of 60 winners, almost twice as many as Stepanek, over the five sets and his willingness to take chances ultimately paid off.
Ward had the good fortune to meet the Italian Luca Vanni, playing only his third match on grass, rather than the No8 seed David Ferrer. Vanni won a first-round place as a lucky loser after Ferrer pulled out on Sunday with injury.
Yet the 28-year-old Ward, who matched his achievement in 2012 by reaching the second round, still had to beat the opponent in front of him and he battled back from a set down to win 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in front of an increasingly partisan evening crowd.
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