Ask anyone about Henry Searle, the first British winner of the Wimbledon men’s singles title for 61 years, and it never takes long for the words Wolverhampton Wanderers to pop up.
Club manager Julen Lopetegui sent a video of support for the 17-year-old ahead of the final and then the club tweeted their congratulations “from the whole pack”.
And it turns out the club played a part in its history from the moment a football madman, a wolf-crazed child, picked up a racket.
“He started with one of our coaches Amber Fellows, who does tennis for toddlers here now,” Marc Hughes, who has watched Searle play since he was two and a half, told Mail Sport, speaking from Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis and Squash Club. that he manages.
“She recognized Henry’s talent. He was very coordinated but he didn’t know if he was going to play football or tennis. Amber, apart from being a very good tennis player and trainer, was also the captain of the Wolves women’s team. So she said let’s do half the soccer session and half the tennis session!
Henry Searle became the first British boys’ singles champion at Wimbledon since 1962
Searle is 6ft 4in and his game is built around a terrific southpaw serve, which peaked at 134mph in the final
Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui sent a video of support for the 17-year-old ahead of the final
“It was a key moment in Henry’s development. Over time he decided he would like to play tennis more than football and he started his journey at the club.
“What you saw in the final was the culmination of everything the coaches and the people here instilled in our juniors: work hard for every point, don’t give up.”
Searle is not one of those stories of a child trained from birth by tennis-mad parents and sent to travel the world supported by family coffers.
His mother Emma is a social worker, the family has little tennis history and is not particularly well off – her membership fees have been covered by the club for several years, as has their policy with promising juniors. His family moved to be closer to the club. They “had to sacrifice a lot,” says Hughes.
At the age of 12, Searle moved to the French Riviera alone 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 supposed to be,” Hughes said. “Henry didn’t have the same coach throughout his career, a lot of attention was focused 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 the National Academy in Loughborough, and the LTA deserves its fair share of credit for his development, but it’s mostly a triumph for the local tennis club.
The passion for his sport, his club and his city echoes 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 all clubs.
Searle was enthusiastically cheered by the support of his hometown, eponymous “Henry’s Barmy Army”
“We are very proud of the 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 non-profit club it’s really important to us that everyone plays and enjoys their time together.
“Henry was a great role model for the juniors. A local boy, a local boy, people think of him a lot here.
That was evident on Sunday when a gang of Wolverhampton club members roared Searle to their 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,” Hughes said. “Ten years ago we did the same for the final and there were more people here on Sunday than there were to watch Andy Murray win Wimbledon.
“A lot of people shrink when there is pressure, Henry just grows. Whenever there was pressure, he delivered. It’s who he is.
“We have his family to thank a lot as they are the ones who have shaped this aspect of his development. A great young man. We are all immensely proud of him.
Searle now finds himself with big decisions. He’s doing A levels in history and psychology at Loughborough and isn’t sure whether he should turn professional now or finish school.
Whenever he decides to take the plunge, former British No.1 and David Cup captain John Lloyd is confident he can make a splash.
Lloyd, who commentated on Searle’s quarter, semi-final and final for the BBC, told Mail Sport: “He impressed me more with every game.” When you watch juniors make the transition, you’re looking at a lot of things. The attitude is huge and from what I hear he is very motivated.
Searle emulated Stanley Matthews’ son (right) in winning the Wimbledon boys’ singles for the first time since 1962
Searle will shortly decide whether to turn professional immediately or complete his A Levels
“Then you look at the guns and his serve is a big hit. This is going to cause trouble for anyone and it will get stronger once it gets fleshed out. He also had phenomenal drop shots on big runs, much like Carlos Alcaraz in the men’s final.
“But what was most impressive was how he handled the big points. Serving for yesterday’s match, he’s serving for a Wimbledon title, the crowd is going crazy, he made it easy in the biggest match of his life.
“Unless there are injuries, I can say categorically that he will go to the professional circuit. The numbers from there? If he continues his development, I think the top 50 without a doubt.
A danger, as always, is the rising expectations and the very British tendency to promote our young athletes.
“He can handle it,” Lloyd said. “I don’t think he’s the kind of guy whose head is going to be turned. He knows this is just the beginning of the journey.