Son of London cabbie serves up string of shock victories to take his place in the last four

IT WAS not the expected response. Certainly not from a British player who isn't Andy Murray. Having ousted the defending champion then followed that up with a strong-willed win in the quarter-finals, James Ward could have been excused a show of relief on learning that his expected semi-final opponent, Rafael Nadal, had made a surprise exit on the adjoining court.

But such is the British No 2's belief in himself now, he was gutted to discover that he would instead be facing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga instead.

"It's a shame I'm not playing Nadal, and it's not exactly a bonus draw playing Tsonga," he said of the Frenchman who was devasting in the second and third set of his match against the World No 1.

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Last week Ward had been playing a Challenger event in Nottingham in front of a handful of spectators. Now the son of a London cabbie is a household name in Britain and earned enthusiastic support from the Queen's Club crowd. A change in coach and the addition to the staff of a former cage fighter charged with the job of toughening him up mentally as well as physically has reaped rewards.

And, while everyone else can let thoughts drift to a conclusion that would have been almost laughable at the outset of these AEGON Championships - an all-British final - his mind is focused solely on this afternoon's match on the Centre Court.

"I haven't even been thinking about the next match. If I win tomorrow then I could face Andy in the final but I've got to focus. I always believed that given the right chance, the hard work would pay off in the end. Obviously, you get a bit nervous at match points because you know what is at stake. You know the sort of tournament you are playing and the opportunities that are available." he said.

"I had a bit of luck at the end to save break points, but I'm obviously delighted to get through. You're not going to give up at this point of the tournament. I played a poor game at the beginning of the third but I knew I'd get my chances."

At that stage he could be excused a minor wobble. Unaccustomed to being in these situations, he had seven match points throughout the second set tie-break, before eventually conceding it to French opponent Adrian Mannarino. But he steadied himself and with the third set pegged at 5-4, Ward made his eighth match point of the encounter, presssuring Mannarino who played his forehand into the net. It was a marvellous display albeit against a player who was himself a surprise commodity, having bettered No 12 seed Juan Martin Del Potro in the previous round.

The odds had still been stacked against the home talent, though. After all that he had already played, forced to finish the match he had started against last year's champion Sam Querrey on Thursday night. Having won that he then only had time for a quick shower and a bite to eat before he was back into the fray.No wonder he is thrilled with what has already panned out to be the best week of his career and the most lucrative, the 20,000 he is guaranteed for reaching the semis, the biggest pay out of his career.

He now ventures even further into the unknown and will pick the brain of Murray. "I will send him a message later and see what he's got!" said the British Davis Cup player. But, as has been the case all week, it will be what Ward conjures up that matters most.