Fans distinguish themselves from fanatics at Wimbledon: Andre Agassi's followers insist that real supporters do not cling to their idols

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The Independent Online
THE nearest Wimbledon had come to obsession in recent years had been the eau de toilette splashed on by players after a shower, or the tent-loads of fans prepared to camp out overnight to catch a glimpse of their heroes, writes Rhys Williams.

But on Tuesday, Steffi Graf had to contend with abuse from a man who had taunted her around the European circuit. It was an obsessed Graf follower who stabbed her rival Monica Seles at a tournament in Hamburg.

The police also questioned a man who has persistently followed the 18-year-old German player Anke Huber during tournaments in Europe. Devotion appears to be taking an unhealthy turn.

Each morning this week, four women at the head of the queue clutched the fruits of their long encampment outside the gates of the All England Lawn Tennis Club - courtside seats for the afternoon match featuring Andre Agassi.

Separately, they were Denise Kimble, 42, Sue Carberry, 41, Sharon Pascual, 36, and Barbara Chatt, 54. Together and along with 246 others, they are Baseline - the Andre Agassi Fan Club. The clue was in the T-shirts with Agassi's stubbly face peering out. The four spoke as one, each chipping in words to form a coherent sentence. 'We don't care what he does with his chest hair,' they said. 'He could shave it off, we'd still love him.'

And was what happened to Graf and Seles the work of a devoted fan? 'It disgusts me,' Sharon said. 'It horrifies me,' Sue added. Denise, the founder member of the club, took on a serious tone: 'It's got nothing to do with tennis and nothing to do with being a fan. It's about a nutcase and a troublemaker.' Barbara said: 'When you are our sort of fan, our main concern is for the well-being of the player we support and for the game.'

Real fans, according to Denise, do not cling to their idols. But they all agreed they wouldn't mind being in a restaurant when Agassi walked in.

Jerry Sockett, 27, smiled from under his Nike cap. He had camped overnight to secure the ground ticket which would allow him to pursue his own peculiar obsession. 'I queue up to see the Brits,' Jerry announced proudly, to, it has to be said, general amazement. 'They're doing quite well, the best year since 1977, I think. Five are through to the second round.'

Fortunately Jerry is a keen fan of all tennis, so his interest in the tournament generally lasts longer than the British players normally do.

Steffi Graf profile, page 14

Reports, pages 51 and 52

(Photograph omitted)