Richardsondoes bit for British

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A victory over Armenia may not quite rank with those over Australia and Germany in the last few days, but in his own small way Andrew Richardson did his bit for the British sporting summer here yesterday.

Despite making a shocking start, Richardson contributed to the feel good factor by responding in a manner completely at odds with the stereotype rank and file British tennis player to beat Sargis Sargsian 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round of the Stella Artois championships. For Richardson, who is ranked 172 places below Sargsian, it was a triumph as much of fighting spirit and mental toughness as technical superiority.

An encouraging afternoon for the home crowd continued to 20 minutes later when Martin Lee came back from losing the first seven games of his match with Andrei Olhovskiy, the Russian grass-court specialist.

Richardson could hardly have been less impressive in the opening exchanges, the 6ft 7in left hander moving slowly and missing easy volleys as he trailed 4-1 and 5-2.

Sargsian is of Armenian stock, operates out of America and sports a goatee all of which brought to mind another Armenian American. The comparison seemed valid in the opening set, for though Sargsian my lack Andre Agassi's dollars in the bank, not to mention his pounds round the midriff, he certainly displayed some of the Las Vegan's shot-making, notably a series of blistering service returns that left Richardson helpless.

Trailing 5-2 the Briton appeared doomed, but then finally found his range, particularly with his service and forced a tie break.

The first eight points went with service but Sargsian forced the break with a lovely quick forehand down the line and went on to win 7-4.

Richardson's response was splendid, however, forcing an early break in the second set and then capturing Sargsian's serve again with a ferocious backhand cross-court pass.

Richardson took the set. By now Richardson was in commanding form. He had earned his wild card for this tournament on the back of his excellent Davis Cup victory over Zimbabwe's Byron Black in April and was clearly relishing the opportunity to show the watching Davis Cup captain, David Lloyd, the full range of his shots.

"I realised they were very good courts," Richardson said. "It suited me to stay back on my second serve."

Richardson was especially strong on the backhand side and it was from this source that he forced the break in the third game, forcing Sargsian to volley into the net. It was Sargsian's game that now appeared ragged, his volley particularly suspect, and Richardson was able to hold serve for the remainder of the set to claim a hard-earned victory.

In the second round today he will meet his friend, Tim Henman, whose status as the No 4 seed earned him a first round bye.

If Richardson's start was poor it was textbook compared to Lee's. "I was very, very nervous," the 19 year old, for whom this is his first senior tournament since moving out of junior tennis four months ago, said. "The first set was over in about ten minutes."

Lee, who was ranked No. 1 in junior tennis a year ago, then mounted his own comeback, shrugging aside the 350 ranking places that divided him and Olhovskiy to beat a man whose most famous victory came over Jim Courier at Wimbledon five years ago.

The day began less encouragingly for Britain with Henman dropping out of the world top 20 for the first time in five months, while Mark Petchey did not catch the mood of the day when he lost to India's Leander Paes in 54 minutes.

n Monica Seles has made a late entry into the Direct Line International Championships which begins at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne, on 16 June.