Retirement at a price for Leconte

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The Independent Online
Having contributed his share of joie de vivre to Wimbledon, Henri Leconte was keen to play a few shots on the All England Club's lawns for a retirement video. He was told it would cost pounds 1,000 just for the privilege of walking on to the Centre Court.

"I almost died laughing," Leconte said. "I couldn't believe it was so expensive. We negotiated and in the end we paid pounds 1,000." The "we" referred to the French television company who made the video, and Leconte played his shots on an outside court.

Wimbledon confirmed that "an agreement was reached between Henri Leconte and the club", adding that it was the customary facility arrangement for the use of the grounds for filming: "We have no comment on the financial side of this, but everybody was happy."

The 32-year-old Frenchman certainly appeared to see the humorous side of the affair when relating the story yesterday, after his valedictory season took a stumble in the first round of the Monte Carlo Open.

Leconte came to prominence in the idyllic setting here in 1982, when his victory against Bjorn Borg marked the phenomenal Swede's retirement. Given a wild card this week (a world ranking of No 322 does not open too many doors), the entertaining left-hander did his best to please in a swirling wind before being worn down by the Czech David Rikl, 6-2, 6-7, 6-1.

Undismayed, Leconte looks forward to a farewell party at the French Open in June, where he was runner-up to Mats Wilander at Roland Garros in 1988.

And Wimbledon? Leconte gave an exaggerated shrug and said it had been indicated that there would be no wild card to mark the 10th anniversary of his appearance in the semi-finals. "It is not easy to play at Wimbledon," he smiled. "I have played there 13 times, but now I have to pay."

Stefan Edberg is also in the throes of his farewell year, but the twice Wimbledon champion will have no trouble passing through the All England Club's gates. Although Edberg's ranking has slipped to No 52, it is still healthy enough for direct entry to the Grand Slams.

Yesterday, the 30-year-old Swede showed that he can still deal with challenges from younger players, even those who make most of their points on slow clay surfaces such as the one here. He defeated Alex Corretja, of Spain, 7-6, 6-3.

Mark Philippoussis and Gilbert Schaller have something in common - both have eliminated Pete Sampras, the world champion, in a Grand Slam championship. Schaller caused the upset on the clay of the French Open, Philippoussis on a home concrete court at the Australian Open.

Although the Austrian might have appeared the slight favourite when the pair met yesterday, he was unable to subdue the 19-year-old Philippoussis, who recovered from 3-0 down in the final set to win 2-6, 7-6, 7-6.

It will be interesting to see how the big-serving Australian fares in the second round against Andrei Medvedev, the 21-year-old Ukrainian who won the title in 1994. Medvedev believes his form is beginning to pick up again, partly because of the work he has done with Bob Brett, the Australian who guided Goran Ivanisevic to two Wimbledon finals, and also because an operation has cleared his sinuses.

"Since then I have not had one cold for six months in a row, which is really unusual for me," Medvedev said, after inflicting a 6-4, 6-4 defeat upon Alberto Berasategui, the 1994 French Open finalist.

Medvedev could hardly contain his feeling of wellbeing. "I don't have any temperature, and I don't feel that I cannot get up from the bed in the morning because I have such a big headache. Now it's great."

Petr Korda, who demonstrated his clay-court potential by advancing to the French Open final in 1992, moved too smartly on the surface for Todd Martin and defeated the American, 6-4, 6-3.

The top seed, Thomas Muster, practised with Jim Courier, the No 8 seed, yesterday. At the same time, Andre Agassi, the second seed, worked on an adjacent court. The interest this created caused spectators to turn their backs on a match between Jordi Burillo, of Spain, and Hernan Gumy, of Argentina. For the record, Gumy won, 6-3, 6-3.