Why I will miss to­day’s cull of the Brits at SW19

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Jim White In­sti­tu­tion: Alex Bog­danovic lost eight suc­ces­sive first-round matches at Wimbledon

Wimbledon should be well un­der way: you can tell that be­cause the weather has turned damp and cold. But, how­ever brood­ing the skies, miss­ing out on the tour­na­ment is one of the great dis­ap­point­ments of this pan­demic. To at­tend Wimbledon fort­night, even to fol­low it on the tele­vi­sion, is al­ways a priv­i­lege: bril­liantly or­gan­ised, packed with drama, un­fail­ingly it de­liv­ers the high­est level of ath­letic pur­suit.

Right now, in its open­ing cou­ple of days, is when the tour­na­ment is at its most be­guil­ing. That is when those with ground tick­ets, un­able to find a place in the show courts given over to the re­quire­ments of cor­po­rate hos­pi­tal­ity, can hap­pen upon star seeds slum­ming it in the boon­docks of the outer courts. That is when the place is so packed with thwack and wal­lop it is hard to know where to look.

And the first Tues­day of the fort­night al­most al­ways of­fers up one of Wimbledon’s most en­dur­ing tra­di­tions. Over the years, we have grown used to the in­evitabil­ity that by Wed­nes­day the sin­gles pro­gramme will be stripped of all home in­ter­est apart from Andy Murray and, lat­terly, Jo­hanna Konta. Tues­day is the “cull of the Brits”.

There can be no more priv­i­leged be­gin­ner in world sport than a young Bri­tish ten­nis hope­ful. While the prodi­gies from around the world have to scrap for the chance to play its hal­lowed lawns, ev­ery year more than half a dozen young Brits are invited by the All Eng­land Club com­mit­tee to jump straight into the main draw how­ever lowly their world rank­ing. And, boy, is it worth get­ting the call-up. Never mind that 30 of the 35 Bri­tish wild cards be­tween 2014 and 2019 fell at the first hur­dle, what a lu­cra­tive stum­ble it was.

First-round losers last year took home £45,000. As sport­ing sub­si­dies go, the All Eng­land Club is among the most gen­er­ous around, help­ing sus­tain fal­ter­ing Bri­tish ca­reers with its an­nual handout: in the five years be­tween 2014 and last year, Wimbledon paid nearly £1mil­lion to Bri­tish wild-card re­cip­i­ents who lost in the first round.

There was no greater ben­e­fi­ciary of such gen­eros­ity than the player who be­came known as the master of the wild card. Ar­riv­ing in Eng­land from Ser­bia with his fam­ily as an eight-year-old in 1992, Alex Bog­danovic was quickly ear­marked as a prospect. And rightly so: in 2001, he be­came the first player rep­re­sent­ing Bri­tain to reach the ju­nior US Open semi-fi­nal (a tour­na­ment Andy Murray won three years later). In 2002 he was awarded the first of his wild cards to Wimbledon. Raw and in­ex­pe­ri­enced, he lost in his open­ing match, but Paul An­na­cone, then the Lawn Ten­nis As­so­ci­a­tion’s head coach,

Bog­danovic said he was de­scribed as Bri­tish when he won, but Serb when he lost

reck­oned that the brave man­ner of his de­feat sug­gested “he would go a long way”.

As it hap­pens, over the course of his ca­reer, Bog­danovic did not ven­ture much fur­ther than Lon­don SW19. For eight suc­ces­sive sum­mers, he was there at the All Eng­land Club, the most regular ben­e­fi­ciary of a wild card. It was just as well the com­mit­tee favoured him. With­out the wild-card sys­tem, he would never have be­come some­thing of a Wimbledon in­sti­tu­tion. He com­peted in 22 grand slam qual­i­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tions, mak­ing it to the main draw just the once, in the 2004 US Open, when he lost in the first round.

In his ca­reer, he once wryly pointed out that he would be de­scribed as Bri­tish when he won a match, Serb-born when he lost. At Wimbledon, he was al­ways Serb-born: he lost eight suc­ces­sive first-round matches. In­vari­ably he was back home by Tues­day night. Still, that meant he trousered more than £250,000 in los­ing fees, enough to keep him on the cir­cuit.

His luck ran out in 2010 when Wimbledon de­cided that – at 26 years old – he was less of a Bri­tish prospect and more of a Serb-born has-been. His wild-card days were over. And oddly, de­spite all that ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing at the world’s finest ten­nis tour­na­ment, that year he did not make it through qual­i­fy­ing.

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