There is nothing a Wimbledon crowd appreciates more than a truly dogged defeat. You suspect that Liam Broady has carved his place in SW19’s heart with his performance against Alex de Minaur. The scorecard may say that the Australian took only three sets to beat him, but it felt like a lot more.
Broady’s determined spirit shone brightly to the very end. He did not win his first break of serve until 5-4 in the final set, when De Minaur was looking to serve out for victory. And yet he almost took the set to a tie-break in a never-say-die final game so thrilling that spectators didn’t just stop counting the deuces, they practically stopped breathing.
After the match, Broady said he felt like Jimmy Connors – he hadn’t lost the match, he had just run out of time. “I probably didn’t settle as quickly as I would have liked,” he said. “I probably ended up getting into the rhythm of it once I was a break down in the third. Obviously against someone like Alex, he’s a world-class grass-courter, it’s a little bit too late.”
Playing with the wholeheartedness that has made him such a popular figure at the championships this past week, Broady forced De Minaur to give his very best, and delivered more than two hours of emphatic entertainment on No 1 Court. A match-up between the world No 132 and the world No 27 was always going to be a tough prospect. De Minaur beat Broady in their only previous meeting on grass at Eastbourne last year, and looked the likely winner from early on here.
Showing the same ruthless speed that had blown away Broady’s fellow Briton Jack Draper in the previous round, the Australian fired down two aces in his opening game. And while Broady had clearly come on court with plenty of self-belief – as evidenced by one steaming forehand followed up by a swaggering drop shot – he was a break down within 20 minutes. His commitment to him to rallies could drag him back into the odd point, but never back into the set.
Still, the 28-year-old gave his all in defense and it felt as if he earned every point he won twice over. There were some successful moments when he was able to draw De Minaur into the net and, facing two break points in the third game of the second set, he summoned up three aces to hold his serve. But for every hard-fought victory on his side of the net there was a speedy counteroffensive coming, and Minaur’s own service games flashed by like title cards.
Broady’s holds of serve became heroic sagas in their own right. Arguably his best chance of leveling the field came towards the end of the second set, when he was the beneficiary of a seemingly unreachable net cord at 0-30 up. But De Minaur skidded in like John Travolta to pop the ball back over the net, before sending the follow-up volley back over his opponent’s head.
Broady later revealed that he had requested a new racket that only arrived on court when he was already a break down in the third set. “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.”
Certainly he produced his best tennis in the third set, as he dug deeper, challenged more savvily and conjured a couple of break points. If any moment captured his efforts of him in this match it was the sight of him running full pelt to chase down a dead-stop drop shot only to end up draped over the net, his long body of him doubled over like a piece of laundry .
But it is that final game that will live on in the memory, the way he forced De Minaur to weather seven deuces and four match points before finally tasting victory. This match was, said Broady, the most enjoyable experience he has had on a Wimbledon show court.
“It’s probably been more of a negative experience [in the past] because I’ve not felt like I’ve been able to express myself,” he said. “I mean, I remember I played [Milos] Raonic on No 1 Court… I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I felt just awful. Whereas today I felt like I was playing well enough to be able to try and get the crowd involved.”
As for De Minaur, the Australian will be required to show considerable tact this week. Not only has he now beaten two British players out of the tournament but his girlfriend, Katie Boulter, suffered her own painful exit from the women’s singles earlier on Saturday. After his game, he assured the press that she had not passed on any tips on how to beat her compatriots – “She tries to stay as neutral as she can” – and his diplomacy and good nature has won him notable support, as evidenced in the warm response to his victory. “Hopefully I can keep it going and get an even bigger crowd support next couple of matches,” he said.
Broady, meanwhile, believes his best tennis is still to come. “I’ll play as long as I can play because I truly believe that my best years are going to come later on in my career. Hopefully they come next year, and then last 10 years. In this sport we never know, do we?”