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Today Paris, tomorrow the world rankings as James Ward qualifies on clay

James Ward ensured himself the fourth-biggest cheque of his career yesterday after the kind of battling display which makes many, including Andy Murray, feel he can break into the world's top 100.

James Ward will earn at least €24,000 at the French Open after making it through the qualifying rounds. Picture: Getty

The 27-year-old became the first British man to emerge through the qualifying rounds to reach the main draw at the French Open, following a nail-biting 4-6, 6-4, 12-10 victory over Blaz Rola of Slovenia. The British No.3 saved two match points in the process. Ward was broken when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set but dug himself out of 6-7, 15-40 before clinching a hard-earned victory.

That win means Ward will earn crucial ranking points as he tries to climb from No.169 in the world but also ensures him at least €24,000 (£19,400), the biggest cheque of his career outside of Britain.

Ward was delighted with reaching the main draw and adamant that he could play at this level. It is a feeling backed up by the words of Murray, who watched the end of his Davis Cup team-mate's match before fulfilling his media arrangements yesterday.

"What he can achieve is really up to him and how much he wants to achieve because he's beaten very good players," Murray said. "He has the form in big matches to suggest that, you know, he could be a 50, 60, whatever, 70 in the world player with the guys he's beaten.

"He serves well. He wins free points on his serve, which helps in today's game a lot; has a very, very good backhand crosscourt, world-class maybe. [He makes] very few mistakes and is very good.

"For probably two or three months a year he has played top-100 tennis and then for the rest of the time it's been a bit up and down. But qualifying for a slam on his worst surface would suggest that with the grass court season coming up he's going to have chances there that he could make a push in the next few months."

Ward has spent much of his career scrabbling about on the Challenger Tour, making very little money despite enormous graft and expense of his own. Without the support of the Lawn Tennis Association, Ward might have struggled to stay in the game as long as he has and a guaranteed cheque of €24,000, with the promise of more, means a lot to a player like him.

Earlier this week, Murray expressed his view that tennis needs to spread the wealth more throughout the ranks to ensure players like Ward, in the 150-300 ranking bracket, are able to earn a living from a sport they play very well.

Ward acknowledged he had no problem with top players earning big money but that there needed to be an element of fairness.

"The gap is way too big, everyone talks about it but nothing gets done," Ward said.

"I think something needs to be done soon because there's going to be a lot of guys who just can't travel 30 weeks a year paying expenses. If you've got a team of five guys around you, paying a coach, a physio, a trainer, an agent, sorting out where you're going for dinner, picking you up, life's a lot easier.

"Yeah, you have to earn those things, but there shouldn't be such a massive gap to the guy who can't even get transport leaving here, because he's lost in first-round qualifiers. It's embarrassing, really.

"Even in the past, at the US Open you get refused entry the day after you lose. What's that about? You're in the top 200 players in the world and you have to get somebody to pick up your laundry because you left it in there the day before.

"Those are the sorts of things that need to change, but how it's going to change I don't know."

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