Doubles pair keep British hopes alive as Neal Skupski and Wesley Koolhof reach quarter-finals

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Doubles pairs keep British hopes alive at Wimbledon as the Anglo-Dutch partnership of Neal Skupski and Wesley Koolhof reach the quarter-finals – and Naiktha Bains and Maia Lumsden break a 40-year duck

There’s no ostentation about the pair who are quietly carrying the hope of British success into the closing days of the championships. The matching red rackets, perhaps, but the Anglo-Dutch men’s doubles partnership of Neal Skupski and Wesley Koolhof are otherwise making their way with minimal fuss, as they tend to do.

Skupski, from Liverpool, should be a more familiar name than he actually is, given the way that he has so consistently carried the country’s torch when others are extinguished here. He’s been part of the mixed doubles winning pairing in the past two years.

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And now for the men’s doubles, with a tilt at silverware which he and Koolhof have been pushing for since losing in last year’s Flushing Meadow final, with quarter-finals in Melbourne and Paris this year.

They combine effectively, with Skupski’s mastery of the angles fundamental to the way they work. He threaded half a dozen shots through the eye of a needle, working tramlines to tramlines, in a fourth-round match which was tougher than anticipated.

It was a game of entertainment value, too, with long rallies reflecting the indefatigability of Australian Davis Cup pair Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson, whose resilience bridged the technical gulf which revealed itself at times.

Neal Skupski (left) and Wesley Koolhof brushed aside the defending champions Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell on Tuesday

Neal Skupski (left) and Wesley Koolhof brushed aside the defending champions Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell on Tuesday

The 33-year-old Liverpool fan has been a late bloomer on tour but consistently sees success

The 33-year-old Liverpool fan has been a late bloomer on tour but consistently sees success

Skupski’s time-management on tour is a complicated process, given his wish to watch Liverpool Football Club whenever they play. His ambition to play padel with Jurgen Klopp at the club’s training ground was borne of an encounter with the German’s assistant Pep Ljinders at Wimbledon last year. He will change train and flight times to watch the team and only generally misses them when on court.

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But the dual focus has not stopped the 33-year-old progressing under the radar, having taken the American college circuit route which a growing number of British players have preferred to the LTA talent programme and the professional tour circuit.

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It was at Louisiana State University that he began to play competitive doubles and his advance has been rapid. He began last year ranked No 20 in the doubles ratings and ended it by becoming only the fourth tennis player from Great Britain to be a world No 1, after Andy Murray and doubles specialists Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury. He was 32. A late bloomer.

He and Koolhof began slowly yesterday, when Koolhof was broken in the first game but they immediately cracked Thompson’s serve, with a brutal backhand winner from Koolhof significant, and won five straight games to take the first se.

There were occasional moments of confusion – both men arriving at the forehand side for a shot at the net which left the backhand side empty, and Thompson’s 127mph first serve was a threat.

Naiktha Bains (left) and Maia Lumsden will also carry British hopes with their history-making quarter-final appearance

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Naiktha Bains (left) and Maia Lumsden will also carry British hopes with their history-making quarter-final appearance

The second was attritional, with the Australians spurning six set points at 5-4, but the top seeds prevailed, securing a second set tiebreak which they won comfortably, lining up a quarter-final on Wednesday against Uruguayan Ariel Behar and Czech Adam Pavlasek.

It was not the only positive outcome for British doubles this week. Britain will on Wednesday have a women’s pair in the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time since 1983 after Naiktha Bains and Maia Lumsden secured their place. They beat Slovakian pair Viktoria Hruncakova and Tereza Mihalikova 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 6-3.

But Skupski and Koolhof carry most hopes. ‘Hopefully Behar and Pavlasek will see the seeding next to our name and fear us a little bit,’ Skupski said. ‘We don’t want to give them anything to build momentum on.

‘It’s important that we get off to a strong start. Hopefully the British crowd will get behind me like, just they always do here.’

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