ROSS HUTCHINS was born and bred in Wimbledon and stays three minutes from the All England Club.
But for a while it was anyone's guess whether he would ever get back there.
The 29-year-old, who spent last year's tournament cheering on his friends Andy Murray and Colin Fleming a fortnight before he was given the all-clear from Hodgkin's lymphoma, finally navigated his way back on to the SW19 match court yesterday. The 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 defeat which he and Fleming suffered at the hands of Pablo Cuevas and David Marrero, the No.16 seeds, on Court 11 was not exactly how he envisaged it, but it was the first best-of-five-set match Hutchins had played in some two years, and he feels he is not too far away from being back to his best.
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"It felt great to be back," Hutchins said. "Obviously it's a shame to be here after a loss in the first round. But this is my home club. It's the best tournament in the world. I was excited and I enjoyed the feeling."
"I wouldn't say I'm finding it harder than I thought, no," he added. "I always knew it would be a challenge. It's disappointing to lose matches. I mean, one of the guys today is a top-10 player. It's not like I feel that I'm way off the pace, that before I was closer to him and now I'm miles away. We're just in battles with good teams, and we've come out second best in a couple of them. It's just a question of maybe 5% here, 5% there. Tennis is fine margins, but it's something for us to aim for."
The cancer may have gone, but the challenges are ongoing. Under ATP rules for players absented from the tour for upwards of three months, Hutchins can use his protected ranking of 29 for 12 tournaments but those tournaments are running out fast. Sitting on an official ranking in the region of 120, Hutchins has two tournaments remaining to break into the top 100 and be sure of receiving the same tournament invitations as before. He and his partner Fleming, from Linlithgow, said no decisions have yet been taken about the future of a doubles pairing which brought three titles, and quarter-final appearances at Wimbledon and the US Open during 2012 alone.
"The aim is to be inside 100 and be in the two digits after 12 tournaments," said Hutchins. "Hopefully it's one week away. If not, do I play challengers? Do I drop down? Does Colin play with someone else? Could I try to get my ranking back up?"
Both men's interest in the tournament remains in the mixed doubles, however. Hutchins is playing with Heather Watson, while Fleming renews his 2010 Commonwealth Games gold-medal partnership with Jocelyn Rae. The pair played together at Wimbledon in 2011, winning a couple of rounds.
Rae also surrendered a first-set lead yesterday, her and partner Anna Smith going down 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Sam Stosur and Flavia Pennetta. But she said that the memories of that sweltering night in Delhi in 2010, despite swarms of flies visible in the floodlights, would serve as inspiration.
"The Commonwealth Games was a massive surprise," said Rae. "I only met him the day before our first match. We nearly lost in the first round, but we just kind of went on from there."
Fleming is equally excited about the prospect. "She sent me a message about playing the mixed here and I knew straight away it would be good," he said. "She's got a lot of upsides on the court, particularly a good serve. If we can get that good energy we had a few years ago going again, hopefully we can be dangerous."
The only British success in the doubles yesterday came when former winner Jonny Marray and his Australian partner John-Patrick Smith won 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 against Andreas Siljestrom of Sweden and Igor Zelenay of Slovakia.