It did not do anything for the domestic game that the man holding the biggest pin bursting British expectation was born in Southampton. Wally Masur bridles whenever anyone suggests he is not 100 per cent Australian and yesterday he embarked on a one- man mission to live down his Hampshire antecedents. In the morning he defeated Ross Matheson 6-4, 6-4 and then polished off Chris Wilkinson 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.
The second win was the more deflating only because Wilkinson - also born in Southampton - has been doing more unexpected trumpet blowing for Britain than anyone. Last week he defeated Goran Ivanisevic at Queen's and in the first round here he overcame Javier Frana, who is 58 places above him in the rankings. Masur, a place outside the world's top 20 and a conqueror of Boris Becker and John McEnroe in the past, proved beyond him.
'The way I've been playing I felt ready for anyone,' the 23-year-old British No 2, said. 'I know it sounds ridiculous when I was playing a man in the top 30 but I felt I was the favourite and I was surprised at how well he played. It was a defeat but I was still in it right to the end which is very encouraging. I'm looking forward to Wimbledon.'
Wilkinson got better as the match progressed and might have won but for a slugglish start which irked him enough to let fly with a ball that nearly decapitated a woman spectator 30 yards away, for which he received a code violation. 'I couldn't have hit the ball like that if I'd wanted to,' he said. 'It was a stupid thing to do but it was an accident. It is out of character, I apologised to her straight away.'
Chris Bailey has also been hitting the ball in ways no one anticipated, and when he took a 2-0 lead without dropping a point to over Australia's Jason Stoltenberg, it seemed another surprise was about to follow his defeat of the top seed, MaliVai Washington, on Tuesday. Instead he squandered two set points at 5-3 from which he never recovered.
Bates, meanwhile, is playing with a similar confidence to that he showed last year when he was within a point of reaching Wimbledon's last eight. 'I'm playing well,' he said, 'but there's no point doing that and getting beaten which has been happening to me recently.'
Yesterday it was a disciplined rather than an inspired 6-4, 6-2 victory over Philippe Pech who had underlined his threat by removing the Olympic champion and No 5 seed, Marc Rosset, in the previous round. 'I had to hustle a bit,' Bates said, 'because it wasn't very nice out there and it was very gusty. I'm hitting the ball very well off the floor and felt confident I could break every time he served.' He plundered the Frenchman's service games six times in all.
Bates, through to the quarter-finals for the first time since the tournament became part of the ATP Tour, will need to retain that self-belief. Today he meets Masur.
Pete Sampras, the No 1 seed for the Wimbledon men's singles, will play in the Vauxhall Cup, which starts at Roehampton today. Sampras strengthens the Rest of the World team, which takes on a Europe side that includes Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic.
The qualifying tournament for the Wimbledon championships may have to switch venues because of the weather. The qualifiers, currently being hit by rain at Roehampton, may have to be finished at Wimbledon's own covered practice courts at Aorangi Park. It would be the first time the qualifying event had moved away from Roehampton.
Results, Sporting Digest, page 37
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