HEATHER Watson’s welcome return to form has helped take some of the attention away from Andy Murray in the opening week of Wimbledon.

The 23-year-old British women’s number one made it through to the third round for only the second time in her career after a straight sets victory over former top 10 player Daniela Hantuchova.

That comfortable win set up the daunting prospect of today’s show-court clash against top seed and strong favourite Serena Williams.

All eyes will be on the Guernsey-born star to see if she can pull off a miracle and go further than she has ever gone before at a grand slam tournament, but her chances are very slim.

The world number 59 is a gritty character so expect no shortage of effort but it will take more than guts to earn the glory of beating Williams.

This kind of David and Goliath match-up is the best British tennis fans could hope for at Wimbledon in the 1980s and early 90s, before Tim Henman and Murray raised the bar.

I remember being glued to the set as a youngster watching the likes of Jeremy Bates and Jo Durie try – and invariably fail – to make it into the second week of Wimbledon.

That was the best we could hope for, there was never any question of a Brit challenging for the title.

It was taken for granted our players would not have the physical attributes – never mind the ability – to compete with the world’s best, who seemed almost super human to me back then.

But when I think about the imbalance now, I wonder why that is the case.

Murray has shown what it takes to make the giant leap from also-ran to genuine contender.

Sure, he has dedicated his whole life to the cause, but it is not like the Scot has been blessed with some God-given natural talent that sets him apart. Hard work is the root cause of Murray’s success.

I worked as a sports reporter in the Wimbledon area a decade ago and witnessed his debut first hand.

I was also given an insight into the home of the Lawn Tennis Association at Roehampton, where David Felgate was the supremo at the time.

His remit was to develop a new national tennis centre and build a strong regional structure to help the next generation of talent coming through.

The town has seen a knock-on effect of that, with Bolton Arena being set up as one of four high performance tennis centres in the country.

But while there are enthusiastic youngsters coming through, most notably 16-year-old Katie Swan, and a lot of good people working round the clock to give them a chance, there is still very little sign of an emerging generation capable of mixing it at the very top.

Murray is a man apart – those below him, like Watson and James Ward, are no more capable of winning grand slam titles than Durie and Bates were in the 80s.

So while poverty-stricken former Eastern Bloc countries seem to keep churning out grand slam contenders, a country that boasts a multi-million pound cash cow like Wimbledon remains a minnow on the world stage.

I am thinking it’s about time the LTA’s millions should be redirected to Murray and his mum Judy to see if they can put it to better use.


NEIL BONNAR: Long live school sports day

IT'S that time of year again when feet go in sacks and eggs come into contact with spoons in the name of sport.

Yes, the school sports days are here, at least in those schools who have managed to overcome the selling off of school playing fields and parental political correctness.

Sports day was the best day of the year when I went to school and I find it disgraceful that fewer are taking place these days due selling the ground they take place on or mummy and daddy kicking off because little Johnny or Julie cries when they don't win.

It's most kids' first introduction to the great world of sport and long may they continue.


DAVID PYE: Twenty20 is a Blast

IF you want cheering up after the last-gasp disappointment of watching the England women’s football team crash out of the World Cup then cricket could just be your cure.

Not only are we just five days away from the start of the Ashes but there is plenty of domestic drama available in the shape of Twenty20 Blast.

If you haven’t sampled it before in the flesh then I recommend a night out watching Lancashire at Emirates Old Trafford – it is the perfect way to spend a barmy summer’s evening.

It is decent-priced family fun for all – from little kids to big kids with post-match music entertainment to boot.

Tonight’s Roses clash may be a sell out but there is still one more home clash to come and it is well worth a visit.