West Hampstead’s Dart determined to do well at Wimbledon

West Hampstead's Harriet Dart reached the semi-finals of the Surbiton Trophy (pic LTA)

West Hampstead's Harriet Dart reached the semi-finals of the Surbiton Trophy (pic LTA) - Credit: Archant

Tennis ace targets qualifying campaign

For West Hampstead’s Harriet Dart, there has been a cyclical nature to the last 18 months, with frustrating injuries being followed by periods of exciting progress.

The 20-year-old, who attended Sarum Hall primary school in Swiss Cottage and then the Royal School in Hampstead, was sidelined by a heel injury called plantar fasciitis between October 2015 and February 2016.

However, she bounced back to reach the final round of last year’s Wimbledon qualifiers, agonisingly losing the deciding set 13-11 against Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova in a clash that lasted just over three hours.

Since then there have been more setbacks – an abductor tear and then a hip injury which again sidelined Dart from October to February and was coupled with a bout of pneumonia in January.

Yet Britain’s number seven, who won the Under-18 title at the Cumberland club on Alvanley Gardens as a 10-year-old, has recovered well again in time for the grass-court season and has this month achieved her highest ever world ranking of 278.

Now she is preparing for another crack at the Wimbledon qualifiers, having been given a wild card, and is aiming to go one step further than last year when the action gets under way at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton on Tuesday.

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“Losing in the last round of the qualifiers at a Grand Slam is probably my best result in terms of the level that you’re playing at, the type of tournament,” Dart told Ham&High Sport.

“I’ll try to use my experience from that, try and build on it and again see how far I can go.

“It helps having a British crowd behind you. Also lots of my family and friends come to watch at this time of year – a lot of the tournaments are nearby or maybe a couple of hours’ drive, whereas when I’m playing in some small Challenger tournament when I’m away, you don’t have that many people watching. You might have the odd British tourist there but that’s probably about it.

“There were a lot of people there [at Roehampton] last year. Now they’re charging for tickets for the first time ever, and they’ve put a cap on numbers, so there must have been an overflow last time.

“One of the courts is being televised as well, and they’ve made a lot of significant improvements to the grounds.”

Dart has already capitalised on one wild-card entry this month after getting a place in the main draw of the Aegon Surbiton Trophy and reaching the semi-finals – a run that underlined her progress over the last 12 months.

“My mental strength is definitely better – being able to turn around matches from what you’d call a losing situation and eventually winning them,” she added.

“Also I’ve been doing well at turning defence into offence and my game style’s pretty aggressive anyway. My movement’s improved too.

“There’s just a lot of little things to work on. You’re just trying to get that extra five per cent in every area, which adds up to quite a significant improvement. Then in the big moments you have a bit of confidence and belief and you trust yourself.”

While Dart was pleased to reach the final four in Surbiton, her 6-1, 6-2 defeat against Heather Watson highlighted the need for further work.

“I actually think we play pretty similarly, but she is incredibly consistent and I think that’s where I’ve got to improve,” she said.

“It’s about being able to replicate that level over a two or three-set match and being able to consistently produce on big points – hitting the ball well enough, with enough length, getting enough angle on it, being able to get up on the point and being more aggressive. I just need to keep working and putting it together in matches.

“Getting to those semi-finals pushed my ranking up quite a lot, because I wouldn’t necessarily get into a $100,000 event on my own ranking, into the main draw, so I really took advantage of having that wild card.”

Dart will hope to do so again in Roehampton and then again in SW19 next week, having been handed a place in the main draw of the Wimbledon women’s doubles competition alongside Katy Dunne.

“This will be my first time in the senior main draw of a Grand Slam,” added Dart. “It’s going to be pretty cool because I get to experience it with one of my closest, best friends, so it’s really nice.

“We always have a good time together and we’ve been picking up some good results in the last couple of weeks on the grass.

“We’ve played the last two years together but our tournament schedules haven’t mixed that well. When we do play the same tournaments we tend to play together.

“I try to play a couple of doubles tournaments when I’m on the road, just for extra matches. It’s a lot better than practising as you’re in a competitive situation.

“You get to serve more, hit more backhands and volleys, and you’re moving. It will definitely be a huge focus when we play in the main draw.

“Although I don’t really think about it, obviously there’s the financial help of playing at Wimbledon too – the prize money’s higher than any tournament that you play. Every little bit definitely helps.”

Dart intends to make the most of her time in London, although she will be unable to watch her beloved Arsenal.

“I wasn’t able to go at all last season because I was away, which was a shame, and it can be difficult to watch it when I’m abroad,” she said.

“Everyone wanted Wenger out and now it’s like ‘oh, we’ve won something’. I quite like him, I think he’s been good for the club.

“I think we just need to take a couple more risks and for certain players not to get so injured. I’m not sure how we’re getting so many injuries.”

Dart is similarly keen to ensure her own development is not dented by further physical problems.

“My goal for this year is to have a really good off-season and try not to get so many niggles and problems that take me out for longer than a month or so,” she added.

“I was quite lucky not to have had surgery on my hip, so I really count myself quite fortunate to be playing this year.”