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Tennis: Britain's skid-row scrappers living in Murray shadow

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

They are Britain's skid-row tennis scrappers who get by on small change, chasing their dreams at far-flung tournaments in outposts like Burnie in Australia or Rimouski, Canada and An Ning in China.

But for once a year, and usually for no longer than two days in late June, the likes of James Ward, Dan Evans, Bryden Klien and Kyle Edmunds, will briefly share the same spotlight as Andy Murray before heading back to anonymity.

While world number two Murray goes into Wimbledon confident of ending Britain's 77-year wait to crown a home men's champion, his compatriots will be grateful that they are guaranteed at least a first round loser's cheque of £23,500 ($36,900).

For British number two Ward, who is 214 places below Murray in the world rankings, that windfall would almost double the $38,000 he has pocketed in the first six months of the year.

Ward and Murray are both 26 and Davis Cup teammates, but the similarities end there.

Murray, the Olympic and US Open champion, has amassed $27 million in his career while Ward, the son of a London taxi driver, has banked a modest $426,000 in his seven years spent trudging on the second-tier Challenger Tour.

When Murray was winning the US Open in September last year, Ward was losing in the quarter-finals of a Challenger in Shanghai, picking up $1,460 for his troubles as well a season-ending wrist injury.

But he had a brief taste of the big time at Wimbledon in 2012, pushing former world number eight Mardy Fish of the United States to five sets in the second round.

"You've got to have self-belief otherwise you're never going to be a good player," said the Londoner.

"I've been playing at this level for a while, but the top players do it every week and that's the difference."

Britain's number three Dan Evans, the world 254, enjoyed a run to the third round at Queen's last week before losing to 2009 US Open champion, Juan Martin del Potro.

The 23-year-old, however, has often symbolised the Jekyll and Hyde nature of British tennis, a sport awash with money courtesy of the annual Wimbledon cash cow that supports talent-rich but discipline-poor players.

Back in 2008, Evans had his funding from the Lawn Tennis Association axed after he was found drinking at a club at three in the morning on the eve of a doubles match at Wimbledon.

Murray told him this year that he needed to work harder and Evans has tried to heed the advice.

"The off-court stuff had to improve," he admitted.

Gone are the late nights and when he stays at the country's national training base near Wimbledon he's in bed by 10:30pm.

"There is a security guard who checks. It's like the Big Brother house, but it's good being 15 again."

If success outside of Murray is lacking in British men's tennis, there is certainly no absence of colour.

National number four is Bryden Klein, who was born in Australia and is a former Australian Open junior champion.

This year he switched his allegiance to Britain, courtesy of his Manchester-born mother, but the 23-year-old is not without controversy.

In 2009, he served a six-month ban for uttering a racist slur during a match when he called South African opponent Raven Klaasen a "kaffir".

Despite Britain's struggles, there is always hope.

Jonathan Marray, a journeyman 32-year-old, became Britain's first men's doubles champion at Wimbledon since 1936 when he teamed up for the title with Frederik Nielsen in 2012.

His share of the £130,000 ($204,500) prize money was comfortably his biggest ever payday.

"You win one of the Challenger tournaments and you're earning less than 1,000 dollars," Marray told Deuce magazine.

His brother Dave added: "He's still wearing old tee-shirts that he's been wearing for the last two or three years. He's got a car back at home, a little Ford Fiesta, that he drives around Sheffield and goes down to London in."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130617/tennis-britains-skid-row-scrappers-living-murray-shadow