Biggest Aussie Wimbledon tilt in 20 years

For all the coaching upheavals and forecasts of doom and gloom, Australia is poised to enjoy its largest Wimbledon singles contingent in 20 years.

Victories in the second last round of qualifying for former junior champion Luke Saville and grand slam rookies John Millman and John-Patrick Smith have left Australia on track to have a whopping 16 players in the main draws at the All England Club.

Not since 1995, a generation ago when Boris Becker, Pat Cash and Davis Cup captain Wally Masur were still gracing London’s hallowed grass courts, has Australia boasted such strength in numbers at the greatest tennis show on earth.

Australia is already guaranteed at least 13 starters, led by seeded title dark horses Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic and veteran 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt in his Wimbledon swansong.

But Saville, Millman and Smith are hoping to swell Australia’s representation to numbers not seen since before the turn of the century.

Former semi-finalist Todd Woodbridge, one of 13 Aussie men to make the main draw way back in 1995 and also a nine-time Wimbledon doubles champion, hailed the “fabulous” development as a reward for the decade-long forward thinking of Tennis Australia (TA) boss Craig Tiley.

“It’s an amalgamation of good planning and getting the right people involved,” Woodbridge told AAP.

“Craig had a vision of what was needed to get Australian tennis back on track and we are now seeing the benefits.

“It has taken time but you can’t make a career in 12 months. It takes a minimum of eight years to create a player.”

It’s been five years since Saville won the boys’ title at SW19, but now only Luca Vanni stands in his way of successfully qualifying for the main draw for the second time.

The 21-year-old upset Dutch 20th seed Thiemo de Bakker 6-4 6-4 on a memorable day for Australian tennis’s first couple.

Saville’s girlfriend Daria Gavrilova, the fast-rising Australian women’s No.2 behind Samantha Stosur, later progressed to the quarter-finals of the Eastbourne International with a three-set upset win over former French Open finalist Sara Errani.

Millman, a 26-year-old battler who climbed to a career-high ranking of 118th in the world this month, rallied from a set down to defeat Frenchman Tristan Lamasine 4-6 6-1 6-4 to move to within a win of a dream Wimbledon debut.

Smith, also 26 and a graduate of the US college system, overcame American Bjorn Fratangelo 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 and can qualify for his long-awaited maiden major main draw with success over unheralded Italian Matteo Viola on Thursday.

The prospect of as many as 16 players in the Wimbledon singles draw comes as welcome relief for TA.

Tomic this week reportedly opted to boycott next month’s Davis Cup quarter-final against Kazakhstan over a dispute between his father John and TA.

Kyrgios’s decision to part ways with long-time coach Todd Larkham just a week out from the championships has also caused pessimism among fans.

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