Richardson walks tall on the grass

Tennis

AT 6ft 7in, Andrew Richardson has mainly been famous for being the tallest British player, but after this week at Beckenham he can boast more substantial achievement. On Friday he put out Patrick Rafter, the world's number 38; yesterday it was the turn of Javier Frana, ranked 41, to be despatched, 6-4 2-6 7-6.

It must be said that grass is not Frana's best-loved surface (like most of his fellow Argentinians, he is a clay-court man) but it was a dogged semi-final performance by Richardson, who at 6-5 and 30-0 down in the deciding set was eyeballing defeat before forcing the match to a tie-break that he virtually breezed through to take 7-4. It has been a good week for the 21-year-old British No 14, as the last-minute offer of a wild card has also saved him the slog of having to qualify for the Stella Artois at Queen's.

Richardson's opponent in today's men's final will Petr Korda, who dashed hopes of an all-British clash when he defeated Paul Hand 6-3 6-7 6-4.

Richardson's one hour and 45 minutes of fame was preceeded by a ladies' final between Els Callens of Belgium and Ros Fairbank-Nideffer, who has descended to 90 in the world rankings after taking time off to embrace motherhood. Fairbank-Nideffer has won this event twice, but the weather was probably kinder in her glory years, 1989 and 1990. Yesterday, in the cold of Beckenham, the South African gave the impression that she is someone who goes better with the sun on her back, butthe skies over this leafy bit of south London were unremittingly grey, and ball girls and umpires courted frostbite.

Callens, a 24-year-old near six-footer is even lower-rated than Fairbank- Nideffer at 125, but appeared unconcerned by the disparity as she bounced to her pounds 2,500 pay cheque courtesy of a reliable first serve and the smart two-handed backhand with which she by-passed most of her opponent's forays to the net.

The prize-money comes courtesy of the LTA, who have had to put hands in pockets after the loss of Direct Line as sponsors. They hope to have found another backer for this 110-year-old event by next year. Potential sponsors should note that in return for underwriting Beckenham they will be welcomed as supporting sponsors at five other LTA events on the principle of "buy one, get five free".

With Fairbank-Nideffer spending the changeovers rubbing her fists into a towel to keep them warm, Callens took the first set 6-2 at a stroll. The South African pursued her more grittily in the second, but once Callens had won her service to love to lead 5-3 the match was virtually over. Fairbank- Nideffer survived two match points before defeat arrived somewhat tamely, 6-2 6-3, when she served a double fault.

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