Henman and Milligan left to fly the flag

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The Independent Online
JOHN ROBERTS

Tennis Correspondent

As Mr Venables said in another arena, we must accentuate the positive. Britain has two men in the third round, and, since Tim Henman and Luke Milligan are playing each other today, the nation will be represented in the last 16 for the fifth year consecutively.

The five other hopefuls, including Greg Rusedski, who carried the flag (tied round his head) last year, perished in the second round, but we have been taught not to be greedy.

Celebrate, instead, the fact that Henman versus Milligan marks the first occasion in the Open era that two British men will have played each other in the third round.

Step back in amazement on learning that it will be the first time two British men will have met on the Centre Court since Monday 20 June, 1938, when Bunny Austin defeated Eric Filby and went on to become the last British finalist in the men's singles.

Rusedski, on Court No 14, served 30 aces but was eliminated by Brett Steven, who had also beaten him in their two previous meetings, on hard courts. On this occasion, the New Zealander won, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2, Rusedski almost double-faulting himself to distraction in the third-set tie-break, which he lost, 12-14.

Mark Petchey was no match for Cedric Pioline, the No 16 seed, but he was at least given the opportunity to pay his respects to No 1 Court. The Frenchman won, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, which surprised no one who recalled his stupendous quarter-final against Boris Becker last year, which he lost, 9-7 in the fifth set.

Chris Wilkinson seemed likely to create something of a national record for consistency by advancing the third round four years in a row, but he was unable to build on a bright start against Jan Kroslak, of Slovakia. Kroslak recovered from a set and a break down to prevail, 1-6, 7-5, 5- 7, 6-4, 6-3.

Since Colin Beecher had fallen to Italy's Renzo Furlan the day before, that left Danny Sapsford, who could only have prospered at Henman's expense. The 27-year-old from Surrey merely detained the nation's top man on Court No 1.

Their match had been suspended on Wednesday because of bad light, with Henman leading, 6-1, 5-5. When play resumed, Sapsford was quicker into his stride, winning a second set tie-break, 7-3, and treating spectators to a superb lob on the final point.

That was about it for our Danny. Henman won the next 11 games before Sapsford produced his first two aces of the match to briefly interrupt his opponent. Henman won, 6-1, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, requiring only 55 minutes on the day.

This was fortunate, considering that Henman had not had a day off since commencing the tournament on Tuesday with that spectacular five-set triumph against Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the French Open champion and fifth seed.

No peace for the successful. Henman is due back on court today to face Milligan, who needed all the rest he could get yesterday after almost collapsing from cramp during his marathon match against Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, on Wednesday.

"I would have preferred a day off," Henman said, "but I've just got to get on with it. It does seem peculiar that some players in the draw are playing Monday, Thursday, and I seem to be spending all my time on the court. It's not really what you would expect in a Grand Slam. I'm not happy, but maybe it's something they should look at.''

Overworked or not, it will be a proud moment for the 21-year-old from Oxford and his family when he steps on to the Centre Court this afternoon. His grandfather, Henry Billington, reached the third round on three occasions, 1948, 1950 and 1951.

Setting aside national fervour for a moment, it ought to be mentioned that some of our overseas visitors also made good use of their court time yesterday.

Pete Sampras, who is attempting to win the title four times consecutively, demonstrated to a mighty young Australian, Mark Philippoussis, that there is much more to grass-court tennis than hitting big serves.

The 19-year-old Philippoussis almost blew Sampras off the rubberised concrete court when they met in the third round of the Australian Open in January, and hit 28 aces on the Centre Court yesterday, 20 of them by the seventh game of the second set.

Moreover, he hit the fastest recorded serve of the tournament (131 mph), and a second serve of 126 mph. But Sampras still won handily, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, which prompted Philippoussis to observe, "I think Pete was definitely determined for revenge, to let everyone know that maybe the last time I beat him it was a bit of a fluke or something.''

That was no fluke, but Sampras has learned from a dodgy introduction to the lawns that the return of serve is the key to success, and the lesson appears to be sinking in early for the big Aussie - one Greek's gift to another.

"I think acing means nothing," Philippoussis said. "I would prefer to serve no aces and win the match than serve 500 aces and lose the match. I think you're better to get consistency in the first serve than aces. First serves and first volleys and the returns are more important than smacking away on my serve, I'm still young, and I'm sure I'll learn that as I get on.''

He is being helped in this direction by Tony Roche, Australia's Davis Cup coach, who spent years trying to will Ivan Lendl to a Wimbledon title. "Tony said I have to mature more and really learn to play grass-court tennis," Philippoussis said. "At the moment I'm serving big, but I've got to learn how to play the points and the returns, and things like that."

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