James Ward looks to move on from 'tough time' by causing Wimbledon upset

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James Ward is relishing his chance to be Wimbledon's opening act on Monday but behind the smile will lie a grief that he is still trying to come to terms with.

Last year the Londoner celebrated reaching the third round of a grand slam for the first time with his Australian coach Darren Tandy.

Tandy had inspired Ward to the best form of his life and helped him finally break into the top 100.

But shortly after Wimbledon, with Ward at a career-high ranking of 89, Tandy began to experience health problems, the extent of which became clear when he suffered a stroke at the US Open.

He was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the colon and died on Christmas Eve.

Ward told Press Association Sport: "It's been a tough time. Obviously the end of last year was very difficult. People deal with grief in different ways.

"He was my tennis coach so every time I play tennis it reminds me of him.

"It's tough to put into words and it's something that's still difficult to talk about. When it's someone so close to you it definitely changes things.

"He was with me every day on court and to have that change is difficult. Maybe I didn't realise how much it was going to affect me and how much it has affected me.

"I wouldn't want to use it as an excuse any time, I've just come to the realisation that it happened and seeing now if I can get over it.

"It's not always there but there are certain times. Obviously different tournaments, special moments. Like last year he was with me at Wimbledon when I had a good run so it's really difficult.

"We got on so well off the court as well and he really was like a father figure to me."

Not surprisingly Ward's form has suffered, with injuries also playing a part, and he goes into Wimbledon ranked 177.

There is likely to be another drop to come unless the 29-year-old can pull off one of the biggest shocks in tennis history and beat defending champion Novak Djokovic in round one.

"It's tough at this time of year when you've got points to defend and you play people like Djokovic," said Ward, who was one of the heroes of Britain's Davis Cup triumph.

"I don't think anyone really takes that into account. It's only for me and people close to me to look at those things and actually keep things in perspective and don't panic too much if the ranking drops because of injury or tough things that aren't in my control.

"I've just got to do whatever I can and hopefully the results get back to what they were last year."

Ward was speaking at the launch of the 'Wimble-Bum' shorts, commissioned by insurance company Direct Line as part of its #directfix campaign, to fix the discomfort for those queuing for Wimbledon.

He said of the tennis-ball-padded shorts: "I have always admired the fans that wait for hours to get tickets and I am glad to be a part of creating the 'Wimble-Bum' shorts and I hope it will make that process more comfortable."

Djokovic has not lost a grand slam match since last year's French Open final, becoming the first man in 47 years to hold all four slam titles at once.

Ward will seek advice from his good friend Andy Murray, who has lost to Djokovic in the last two slam finals but was the last man to beat him at Wimbledon in 2013.

"It's not ideal, but in some ways it is," said Ward of the draw.

"It will be a great experience and something that doesn't happen to many people, to open the tournament playing against one of the greatest players of all time and the current world number one. It doesn't get much better than that.

"I've just got to go out there and give it a go and you never know. Surprises happen.

"Of course you've got to go out there believing you can win. I'm going to speak to Andy and see what he has to say. Hopefully he can chuck something good my way."

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