Jeremy Bates lost his footing somewhere between the Everest National Club League and the summit of clay court tennis here at the French Open. His defeat on the opening day, coupled with Clare Wood's elimination from the women's singles, drew another blank for Britain.
Playing indoors in the latest domestic initiative designed to raise interest in the game was hardly the best preparation for what the British No 1 faced here. Ctislav Dosedel rallied him off the court, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1.
Dosedel may not be a name to be feared by a player of Bates's experience, but the 22-year-old from the Czech Republic, ranked only 13 places behind the Briton at No 114 in the world, displayed a far superior aptitude for the slower surface.
Wood gave a far more spirited performance, though, losing to Wiltrud Probst, of Germany,
4-6, 6-4, 6-1, a result which ended Britain's involvement in the singles events. Wood, ranked 65 places below Probst at 129, recovered from 0-4 in the second set and had a point for 5-1 before the match hurried away from her.
Occasional expressions of self- criticism led to a warning for Wood from the umpire, who apparently misinterpreted a sign from the supervisor, Georgina Clark. By touching an ear, Clark intended the umpire to listen for Wood's more colourful comments. At the time, the player was saying nothing more offensive than 'Move your feet]'
Bates might have afforded himself similar advice. The player who created so much British interest at Wimbledon last summer has not won a match in a Grand Slam tournament since. He missed the United States Open in order to get married, and was defeated on the opening day of the Australian Open in January by Heath Denman, a local wild-card entry.
Yesterday, Bates spent far longer trying to produce a urine sample for the drug test than he did on the court. 'It was a good draw for me compared to what most draws are in this tournament,' Bates said. 'It underlines my weakness on this surface.'
Though he had practised on clay courts in England, 'on and off', Bates agreed that it might have been a better idea to travel to Paris last Thursday instead of playing club tennis for David Lloyd Raynes Park on Saturday. 'I think the league is a great idea, but it would be better if they played the matches outdoors,' he said.
Yesterday's result yet again exposed Britain's paucity, particularly on clay - as evidenced in the recent Davis Cup defeat in Hungary - and called into question the wisdom of having a club league involving some of our leading players at this important time of the year.
Jim Courier, the defending champion, opened in confident style with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win against Roberto Azar, an Argentinian left-hander, and Boris Becker enjoyed the rarity of a runaway victory on a surface which usually drags his feet.
Mind you, Nicolas Escude, his 17-year-old French opponent, had not played a full-scale match on the ATP Tour, let alone a Grand Slam, which makes the score, 6-0, 6-3, 6-0, less surprising.
Becker recently parted from his Austrian coach, Gunther Bresnik, and has been practising with Eric Jelen, his former Davis Cup team-mate. 'I worked with him last year at Wimbledon and in Frankfurt, and I have asked him to help me out here and at Wimbledon,' Becker said. 'It depends how it goes whether we go further from there.'
Stefan Edberg, another attacking player who needs time to build his confidence on these courts, appeared to be well into his stride when two sets to the good against Marcelo Filippini. But the Uruguayan, who thrashed Ivan Lendl at the Italian Open, made Edberg work for a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win.
Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who are seeded to meet in the women's singles final, practised together on the Centre Court shortly before play started and promptly lost their touch.
Both were forced into tie- breaks by opponents who were prepared to fight back until it dawned upon them that they might actually win a set. Graf put Cecilia Dahlman, of Sweden, back in her place, 7-6, 6-1, and Sanchez Vicario defeated the 18-year-old Monique Kiene, of the Netherlands, 6-3, 7-6.
Graf's advance through a Grand Slam tournament tends to occur in a series of brief encounters with shell-shocked opponents. The pattern seemed set to continue when she took a 2-0 lead against Dahlman, who is ranked No 106 in the world.
There is no doubt that Graf's confidence has been affected by the knife attack on Monica Seles in Hamburg, though the Wimbledon champion said she did not worry about it when she stepped on the court.
She advised Seles to adopt her customary single-mindedess when she resumes her career. 'It is important for her to just forget and just keep on doing what she used to and not be afraid of it,' Graf said.
RESULTS FROM ROLAND GARROS
MEN'S SINGLES First round: C Dosedel (Cz) bt J Bates (GB) 6-3 6-2 6-1; J Arrese (Sp) bt A Volkov (Rus) 6-2 6-4 7-6; A O'Brien (US) bt G Pozzi (It) 6-2 6-3 6-2; C Costa (Sp) bt J Kroschko (Hung) 6-0 6-3 6-1; S Matsuoka (Japan) bt F Santoro (Fr) 7-5 3-6 6-3 6-3; D Prinosil (Ger) bt T Martin (US) 7-6 6-3 7-6; T Woodbridge (Aus) bt M Koevermans (Neth) 6-4 6-4 6-2; R Fromberg (Aus) bt L Mattar (Bra) 7-6 6-2 7-5; T MUSTER (Aut) bt H Skoff (Aut) 0-6 6-3 6-4 6-2; A Chesnokov (Rus) bt J Eltingh (Neth) 6-4 7-6 6-1; G Prpic (Croa) bt L Roux (Fr) 3-6 7-5 6-4 6-1; C Pioline (Fr) bt S Stolle (Aus) 3-6 4-6 6-3 6-0 6-2; R Gilbert (Fr) bt T Witsken (US) 6-2 6-1 6-3; J COURIER (US) bt R Azar (Arg) 6-3 6-3 6-3; S Pescosolido (It) bt D Vacek (Cz) 4-6 6-3 6-4 6-2; Y Kafelnikov (Rus) bt K Kucera (Cz) 6-3 6-4 6-4; R KRAJICEK (Neth) bt C Bergstrom (Swe) 7-5 6-3
7-5; K NOVACEK (Cz) bt R Agenor (Hai) 7-6 6-2 7-6; S EDBERG (Swe) bt M Filippini (Urug) 6-3 6-4 4-6 6-4; O Delaitre (Fr) bt G Schaller (Aut) 6-2 6-4 4-6 6-3; F Clavet (Sp) bt C Mezzadri (Swit) 6-4 6-2 6-4; B BECKER (Ger) bt N Escude (Fr) 6-0 6-3 6-0; M WASHINGTON (US) bt A Jarryd (Swe) 6-3 2-6
6-4 6-4; J Tarango (US) bt M Naewie (Ger) 0-6 2-6 6-2 6-1 6-4; M Rosset (Swit) bt C Adams (US) 3-6 3-6 7-5 7-5 6-4; K Carlsen (Den) bt E Sanchez (Sp) 7-6 4-6 6-3 6-4; M Gollner (Ger) bt D Wheaton (US) 6-3 6-7 6-7 6-4 6-4; A Krickstein (US) bt R Weiss (US) 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-3; P KORDA (Cz Rep) bt L Jonsson (Swe) 7-6 4-6 6-4 7-6; B Gilbert (US) level with B Shelton (US) 5-7 4-6 6-2 6-1 2-2 (unfinished); T Enqvist (Swe) level with C Arriens (Ger) 3-6 4-6 6-2 7-6 (unfinished).
WOMEN'S SINGLES First round: I Gorrochategui (Arg) bt Z Garrison Jackson (US) 6-2 6-1; K Po (US) bt F Romano (It) 6-3 6-2; S GRAF (Ger) bt C Dahlman (Swe) 7-6 6-1; S Wasserman (Bel) bt K Piccolini (It) 6-2 7-6; L McNeil (US) bt B Fulco- Villella (Arg) 6-0 4-6 6-2; J Santrock (US) bt G Pizzichini (It) 6-4 6-4; L Gildemeister (Peru) bt G Fernandez (US) 7-6 3-6 7-5; A-M Foldenyi (Hung) bt C Lucarelli (Fr) 6-3 6-2; A SANCHEZ VICARIO (Sp) bt M Kiene (Neth) 6-3 7-6; N Baudone (It) bt M Miyauchi (Japan) 6-1 6-3; S HACK (Ger) bt S Rottier (Neth) 6-3 6-4; G Helgeson (US) bt S Meier (Ger) 6-1 4-6 6-2; A HUBER (Ger) bt S Pitkowski (Fr) 7-6 6-3; A Strnadova (Cz) bt A Gavaldon (Mex) 6-1 6-3; R McQuillan (Aus) bt M Babel (Ger) 6-0, 6-3; L Allen (US) bt F Perfetti (It) 6-1 6-3; Y Basuki (Indon) bt M Endo (Japan) 6-4 7-6; K Nagatsuka (Japan) bt T Ignatieva (Rus) 2-6 7-5 7-5; L Meskhi (Geor) bt S Sabas (Fr) 6-2 6-3; P Paradis-Mangon (Fr) bt N Medvedeva (Ukr) 7-5 6-1; K DATE (Japan) bt K Kschwendt (Ger) 6-4 6-4; N Muns-Jagerman (Neth) bt M Jaggard-Lai (Aus) 6-1 7-5; A COETZER (SA) bt L Neiland (Lat) 6-0 6-4; R Dragomir (Rom) bt N Dahlman (Fin) 6-3 6-2; W Probst (Ger) bt C Wood (GB) 4-6 6-4 6-1; R Nideffer (SA) bt V Martinek (Ger) 4-6 6-4 6-4; J Byrne (Aus) bt A Olivier (Fr) 6-3 6-3; S Frankl (Ger) bt C Kuhlman (US) 6-1 1-6 7-5; B Rittner (Ger) bt N Ercegovic (Croa) 6-4 6-4; N Zvereva (Bela) bt D Graham (US) 6-3 6-1; M Oremans (Neth) bt R Hiraki (Japan) 6-4 6-7 6-2; C MARTINEZ (Sp) bt L Ghirardi (Fr) 7-5 3-6 6-4.
(Seeded players in capitals)
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