Grand entrance, emotional exit

Pam Shriver assesses the highs and lows of a week that ended in personal triumph
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The Independent Online
THERE is no doubt about the highlight of the first week: Greg Rusedski's victory over Guy Forget. Whenever a British player progresses through the draw at Wimbledon - and it doesn't happen often - an exciting new dimension is added to the Championships.

There couldn't have been a better stage for Rusedski's entry into the mainstream of British tennis. It was probably a good thing that he did poorly in the lead-up to Wimbledon, because that lowered the public's expectations and, although he's a very confident person, I am sure he was having some doubts about his game prior to the tournament.

But then he played a "lucky" loser in the first round and he has grown in assurance in each round since. His win over Forget on Centre Court may have been the best British performance, but it was Jo Durie's farewell that provided the emotional high point of the opening week.

It was good that Jo went out of her last Wimbledon against a class performer like Jana Novotna. It may have looked like an easy win for the Czech player but Jo gave a very good account of herself and made her opponent work very hard for victory. The crowd gave Jo a standing ovation at the end of the match; it was the least she deserved after 18 years of representing Britain in competitive tour tennis.

It was most unfortunate that Martina Hingis drew Steffi Graf in the first round. Martina is the brightest star of the women's game and to have her removed from the field so early was a shame. She'll be back playing here for the next 15 years - if she wants to - but she was certainly a victim of the bad luck of the draw this time.

There were others who lost out in the draw. In the same round, Gigi Fernandez played Lindsay Davenport; a semi-finalist from last year against the player ranked No 7 in the world. Davenport prevailed in a terrific match, but again we had to lose a star early on.

Steffi's back problem is clearly a big worry. I don't think she knew how it would react to playing on grass. She hasn't played on the surface since she had the injury last summer. The bounce here is occasionally unpredictable and that can put the back under pressure. Making the transition from clay to grass is a big challenge for the body - even a healthy one. But if Steffi's health remains at its current level, I think she can play on for another year or two. However, if it gets any worse, I think she should just say: "I've nothing left to prove, and I'm starting to wreck my body."

We have certainly learned to deal with the vacuum at the top of the women's game in the past couple of years. Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova and Jennifer Capriati are all sorely missed. Steffi has been a great star and we don't want to lose her too. If Seles comes back and Mary Pierce develops some consistency in Grand Slam play we are poised for a great era in the game. But we need people to stay healthy.

Pierce's defeat was not unexpected. Nathalie Tauziat was a dangerous floater in the draw, especially after winning Eastbourne. Pierce had not played any lead-up tournaments on grass, and suddenly she found herself on Centre Court up against a compatriot who knows how to play on the surface.

The way that Andre Agassi is striking the ball is something that I'm not sure I've seen before. It reminds me of John McEnroe, who also had the similar ability just to destroy opponents in the finals here.

Agassi gave McEnroe's brother, Patrick, no time to do anything. He hits the ball with such velocity and placement that it must be a frightening experience for the server. Agassi and Pete Sampras are still the guys to beat, along with Goran Ivanisevic, who seems to focus so well here.

Much of my week has been spent in the BBC commentary box, but my most exciting moment was on court in a women's doubles second round match against the Australian pair, Nicole Bradtke and Kristine Radford on Friday afternoon. My partner, Nicole Arendt, and I started slowly and lost the first set 6-1. But we comfortably won a tie-break for the second set. We then faced two match points in the final set against serve. But we managed to hold on and broke serve in that game and again at 10-9. Nicole then served it out for victory.

It was a sweet win and it will be great to be playing in the second week of Wimbledon again.