Bates finds his feet on grass

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The Independent Online
TENNIS

TREVOR HAYLETT

reports from Beckenham

Jeremy Bates put the grass beneath his feet yesterday and the feeling was pretty good. He enjoys his home comforts and, while others have given the Beckenham tournament a wide berth this year, he continues to turn up. What is more, he might just be about to answer his country's call once more.

During the winter, Bates declared that he was no longer minded to shoulder the burden of Britain's hopes in the Davis Cup and suggested, at 32, it was time the younger breed took over. Since then we have lost to Slovakia, and David Lloyd, the new British captain, has waved the flag and invited him to grasp it.

"I have spoken to David recently, but I would rather leave any decision until I have got back to him," Bates said. "Ask me again in two days' time and I might have an answer."

Next month's confrontation with mighty Monaco at Eastbourne will determine whether Britain is to sink into the Euro-African zone, and Lloyd would have been impressed yesterday as Bates swept aside countryman Colin Beecher in the first round.

It was routine business, Bates detained a mere 66 minutes for his 6-3, 6-2 victory which gives him a second-round match with another Englishman, Andrew Foster, who put out Bong-Soo Kim of Korea.

What might be encouraging Bates is that with Greg Rusedski now a fully committed Brit, he is no longer the home player with the highest computer ranking. For the first time since 1987, he could compete knowing that most of the attention and pressure would be focused elsewhere.

There have been dissenting voices among the squad with regard to the arrival of the Canadian-born Rusedski, but not from the Solihull quarter. "Greg is a very good player and a decent guy. It is not a problem for me that he has come in at the top because I am winding down my career, but I do have sympathy for someone like Mark Petchey, because he has worked all over the globe to try and get the No 1 spot."

Having disappointed the organisers here - a bout of tonsilitis proving difficult to shake off - the unveiling of Rusedski is expected next week at the Stella Artois Championships. Bates is in no doubt that he will go down a storm. "He will do well on grass, his service is quite staggering. Guys like Ivanisevic serve big but he is not in Greg's class. He has so much variation."

The men's draw lost its No 1 seed yesterday when the Australian Jason Stoltenberg made a first-round exit. His demise meant that Lan Bale of South Africa went from "lucky loser" - beaten in the last qualifying round, his was very much a backdoor route into the main competition - to "most delighted winner" in the space of a couple of hours.

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