Giant-killers march on

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The Independent Online
Sherpa Tenzing must have felt it after he planted the flagpole and boiled up the billycan for his boss. The main job had been completed but there was still work to be done.

That sensation will have touched the American slingshot victors of the first round when they emerged to carry on the job yesterday. Jonathan Stark and Doug Flach accounted for Jim Courier and Andre Agassi respectively on Monday, but were faced with more prosaic opposition second time around.

Both men were shunted to the backwaters, dismissed to the adjoining courts No 8 and 9 where, unnervingly, players can hear bursts of applause all around but still know that none of it is for them. Even at this early stage of the tournament, pale, dusty patches are spreading around the baseline and little, broken-off tufts of earth have to be flicked away from the service area.

Stark and his opponent, Mark Knowles of the Bahamas, are well over 6ft tall and if you were introduced to them in a bar the first word that would come to mind is "sir". The pair would have made good bookends for the Great Wall of China. On court, however, tennis players tend to disprove Darwin's theory of evolution, surviving on a banana and water diet we associate more readily with our near relatives in the trees. Stark brought a bunch on court and washed it down with alternate swigs of water and Coca-Cola (you would not have wanted to be near him in the bus queue back home).

Big men invariably mean big serves and one phrase that did not crop up consistently in the courtside cheering was "good rally". Knowles started the match in a bandana, and looked as frightening as an Indian about to descend on a circle of wagons, but by the end the headgear was more a bandage for battered pride. The short exchanges were invariably settled in Stark's favour as he moved to a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 success.

It would be a surprise if Stark played someone he was not on first-name terms with in the next round. It has been Christmas-card opposition so far, as Courier is a friend of long standing and he has won a doubles tournament with Knowles. But then the all-American boy is very good at relationships. Last year he met his mixed doubles partner for the first time just five minutes before they were due on court here and went on to win the title. It may have helped that she was called Martina Navratilova.

The name Flach is also better known in doubles surroundings. Doug's older brother, Ken, was an outstanding men's doubles practitioner who won the title in SW19 twice in the late 1980s. So strong is Ken's connection with his old partner there are probably still those around who think his surname is Flach-And-Robert-Seguso.

Flach went on a tour of the capital's sights on Tuesday, studiously avoiding the London Dungeon in case some distraught Agassi fans were still around. This was a Groundhog match from the first round with Jared Palmer, like Agassi, blasting away in the first set before deteriorating. Flach won 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Afterwards he outlined how his life had changed in the last few days. "It's been really wild," he said. "I called my Mum after the Agassi match and CBS was in her living room." He did not mean the channel was showing on her television.

Flach has been shaking hands, giving interviews and fielding phone calls with great grace and treating the whole experience as a compliment. He clearly has some way to go before he can be considered as a top sportsman.

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