Party is finally over for Bates

Terry Venables has also received an invitation, but he will find Dickie Bird and Jeremy Bates at the retirement gala ahead of him. Our Jeremy disappeared into the Wimbledon sunset for the last time yesterday when he succumbed to Nicolas Pereira on Court 14, completing a neat circle as it was on that meadow that he enjoyed his greatest day in SW19, against Michael Chang in 1992.

Bates has recently taken to talking like an elder statesman, informing how things have changed in the game since he was a lad (Slade are not in the charts, for one thing). Yesterday he proved it.

The service action was as it always has been, the wind-up involving a quick downwards glance to the right, as if a wasp had just landed on court. A more depressing constant, however, was the number of first serves Bates buried in the net. Pereira did not do this. He sent aces whistling past our boy like the years.

The Venezuelan had beaten Boris Becker and Thomas Muster this year, but he had also lost to the Wallace and Grommits of the circuit. What he did possess was an eight-year age advantage over his opponent. Bates was 34 last week and, while the ravages of the calendar have affected his face and body less than just about everyone of that age on the street, he is a Methuselah in tennis terms.

A sign of the passing times was when a Bates supporter arrived at courtside, a village schoolmistress of a figure, wearing a long skirt and blazer, carrying a tan satchel and peering through thin-rimmed spectacles. This was Jo Durie, Bates's partner when the championship's mixed doubles title was annexed in 1991, the day when the pair pogoed on Centre Court. Ballroom dancing would now seem more appropriate.

After his 2-6, 3-6, 4-6 defeat, Bates found that movement of any description was close to impossible. His legs disobeyed orders to take him from the arena. "It was very difficult to walk off the court," he said. "I spent a lot of time throughout the whole match thinking about that [final] moment, it kept going over and over in my mind what was going to happen in the end.''

Bates leaves behind playing images from the textbook across times when the bodybuilding manual became the game's more relevant tome. "There's a massive difference the way the sport is being played today as opposed to how it was played 10 years ago," he said. "The game is faster and the athlete is bigger and stronger.

"I'm giving people 10 or 12 years and they are different type of athletes. It's no fun playing against guys who are bigger than me and stronger than me. I didn't want to get into a situation where I was always out of my depth and I'm very aware that I was getting into that situation.''

Bates intends to stay in this country and play exhibitions and seniors tournaments, as well as involving himself in national coaching. As a character who captured the nation's attention for the same week or so every year before slipping silently away, he could also apply for Santa's job at Harrods.

Colin Beecher was the first Briton to proceed to the second round when he disposed of his compatriot Nick Gould 6-4, 6-4, 7-5. The 25-year-old from Croydon was one of the first pupils at the Rover LTA School at Bisham Abbey.

While he graduated from that Alma Mater with some distinction, it may be more difficult for Beecher to progress any further as he will not have a wild-card entry against him next time. Never mind, he could get an invitation to Bates's party.

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