Pride of Belgium wins new friends

Julie Welch braves Court 14 to follow the fortunes of an adopted Briton

ON Court 14, Dick Norman beat Todd Woodbridge, 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-3, and while doing so became a temporary Brit. We took him to our hearts and called him Norm. This is probably because his name has a ring of mead and roast ox about it, although in fact he hails from the land of moules frites. Dick is a Belgian and, at 6ft 8in, one has to say he is a Big Dick. He made Woodbridge look as small and insignificant as a boy, though next to this man even Lindsay Davenport would seem petite.

He has long coppery hair which when playing is held back with a blue headband which, for triumphant press conferences after knocking out star players, hangs round his shoulders in a Pre-Raphaelite stream. He is a player of contradictions; a quite extraordinary delicacy of touch on the volley and a range of baseline shots so flamboyantly struck that spectators in the front spent of much of their time ducking. The Belgians in the crowd bagged all the seats in the back row. They alone knew what the man was capable of.

Norman is one of the most splendid discoveries of these Championships. What is wonderful is that this 24-year-old only just made it here. He was all set to go home three weeks back after Sandon Stolle beat him in the qualifiers at Queen's Club, but scraped in on a lucky loser's ticket. He is still staying at the modest Earl's Court hotel, where his bags were already packed and ready to hit Waregem.

Norman has already put out Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg. Now he is going to meet Boris Becker. After that, there are only two more Wimbledon champions, Agassi and Sampras, in his way, and then he can leave us at last.

Meanwhile, Cedric Pioline coasted into the last 16, 6-4 6-4 6-3, against Patrick Baur of Germany. It was probably just as well, given the large number of Pioline's compatriots who would otherwise be hanging around SW19 with no one to cheer on this week. Now that Guy Forget and Mary Pierce have gone, not to mention Henri Leconte and Nathalie Tauziat, Pioline is the last Frenchman at Wimbledon - in the singles at any rate. They did no better in their own championships last month: of the 17 Frenchmen who entered, only one, Arnaud Boetcsh, reached the third round.

This might seem unbelievable, given that, only a few years ago, whenever the British game was being held up by the finger and thumb, it was French tennis to which it was so unfavourably compared. What on earth can have changed? Well, now we have Greg Rusedski, who in dispatching Forget and Olivier Delaitre in quick succession, appears determined to tear down the tricolour single-handed. The French must grateful that Pioline is in the other half of the draw.

Pioline put out Jim Courier in his previous round and has the detached expression of a car mechanic, the one on the hard shoulder a hundred miles outside Paris who wordlessly conveys that your motor is beyond repair.

Neither player has one of those industrial-sized serves, and there were enough rallies to make this an entertaining if short-lived confrontation. The first set went with serve until the 10th game when, with Baur 5-4 down, Pioline took the advantage with a couple of winners and chalked up the lead on his second set.

Set two was a virtual rerun, and in the final set the German conceded the first four games, then broke back once when Pioline's touch in the rallies temporarily deserted him. But there was really only one way it could go.

At 5-3 up, Pioline rounded off a neat performance with an ace that took him to 40-15. He needed only one of his two match- points, sealing victory with a backhand volley.

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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