EXCLUSIVE: Wolverhampton Wanderers superfan Henry Searle chose a career in tennis over football and he is already reaping the rewards of his decision after becoming Wimbledon boy’s singles champion

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Ask anyone about Henry Searle, the first British winner of the Wimbledon boy’s singles title for 61 years, and it never takes long for the words Wolverhampton Wanderers to come up.

The club’s manager Julen Lopetegui sent a video of support to the 17-year-old before the final and afterwards the club tweeted their congratulations ‘from all the pack’.

And it transpires that the club played a role in his story from the moment a football mad, Wolves mad kid picked up a racket.

‘He started with one of our coaches Amber Fellows, who is here now doing tots tennis,’ Marc Hughes, who has watched Searle play since he was two and a half years old told Mail Sport, speaking from the Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis and Squash Club which he manages.

‘She recognised the talent in Henry. He was very coordinated but he wasn’t sure whether he was going to do football or tennis. Amber, in addition to being a very good tennis player and coach, was also captain of the Wolves ladies team. So she said let’s do half of the session football and half of the session tennis!

Henry Searle became the first British boys' singles champion at Wimbledon since 1962

Henry Searle became the first British boys’ singles champion at Wimbledon since 1962

Searle is 6ft 4in and his game is built around a formidable lefty serve, which peaked at 134mph during the final

Searle is 6ft 4in and his game is built around a formidable lefty serve, which peaked at 134mph during the final

Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui sent a video of support to the 17-year-old before the final

Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui sent a video of support to the 17-year-old before the final

‘That was a key moment in Henry’s development. As time progressed he decided he would like to do tennis more than football and he began his journey at the club.

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‘What you saw in the final was a culmination of all the things the coaches and the people here have instilled in our juniors: work hard for every point, don’t give up.’

Searle’s is not one of those stories of a child trained from birth by tennis-mad parents and sent travelling the world backed by the family coffers.

His mother Emma is a social worker, the family had little history of tennis and are not especially well off – his subscription fees have been covered by the club for a number of years, as is their policy with promising juniors. His family moved house to be closer to the club. They have ‘had to sacrifice a lot’ says Hughes.

At the age of 12 Searle moved on his own to the Cote d’Azur to live and train at the prestigious academy of Patrick Mouratoglou, the former coach of Serena Williams. But he became disillusioned. ‘It wasn’t as good as it was purported to be,’ said Hughes. ‘Henry didn’t have the same coach throughout his journey, a lot of attention was focussed on some of the other players and not him. And he was a long way from home.’

Searle returned to Wolverhampton after nine months. He now trains at Loughborough’s National Academy, and the LTA deserve their fair share of credit for his development, but above all this is a triumph for the local tennis club.

Passion for his sport, his club and his city reverberates through Hughes’ voice as he says: ‘This is Henry’s second home. The club here values its juniors and I’m afraid that’s not the case at every club.

Searle was passionately cheered on by hometown support, self titled 'Henry's Barmy Army'

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Searle was passionately cheered on by hometown support, self titled ‘Henry’s Barmy Army’ 

‘We’re very proud of diversity at the club. Wolverhampton is a tough city at the moment, there’s not a lot of new business coming in, so as a not-for profit club it is really important for us to get everybody playing and enjoying their time together.

‘Henry has been a great role model for the juniors. A local boy, a local lad, people think a lot of him here.’

That was raucously evident on Sunday when a gang of Wolverhampton club members roared Searle to his straight-sets victory from the No1 Court stands wearing ‘Henry’s Barmy Army’ t-shirts.

And back at the club the bar was packed. ‘We had 80 or 90 people watching,’ said Hughes. ‘Ten years ago we did a similar thing for the final and there were more people here on Sunday than were here to watch Andy Murray win Wimbledon.

‘A lot of people shrink when there is pressure on, Henry just grows. Any time there was pressure he delivered. That’s who he is.

‘We’ve got a lot to thank his family for because they are the ones who have shaped that side of his development. A great young man. We’re all immensely proud of him.’

Searle is now left with some big decisions. He is doing A Levels in history and psychology at Loughborough and is unsure whether to turn pro now or complete his studies.

Whenever he does decide to take the plunge, former British No1 and David Cup captain John Lloyd is confident he can make a splash.

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Lloyd, who commentated on Searle’s quarter, semi and final for the BBC, told Mail Sport: ‘He impressed me more with each match. When you’re looking at juniors making the transition you look at many things. Attitude is huge and from what I’ve heard he’s very motivated.

Searle emulated the son of Stanley Matthews by winning the Wimbledon boys' singles for the first time since 1962

Matthews's son won the boys' event in 1962

Searle emulated the son of Stanley Matthews (right) by winning the Wimbledon boys’ singles for the first time since 1962

Searle will decide shortly whether to turn professional immediately or complete his A Levels

Searle will decide shortly whether to turn professional immediately or complete his A Levels

‘Then you look at weapons and his serve is a big shot. That is going to cause problems for anybody and he’s going to get stronger once he fleshes out. He also hit some phenomenal drop shots on big points, a bit like Carlos Alcaraz did in the men’s final.

‘But what was most impressive is how he dealt with big points. Serving for the match yesterday, he’s serving for a Wimbledon title, the crowd’s going crazy, he made it look easy in the biggest game of his life.

‘Unless there’s injuries I can categorically say he will make it on to the pro tour. The numbers from there? If he continues his development I think top 50 without question.’

One danger, as ever, is of rising expectations and the very British tendency to hype up our young athletes.

‘He can handle it,’ said Lloyd. ‘I don’t think he’s the kind of bloke whose head is going to be turned. He knows this is just the beginning of the journey.’

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