Tennis: Cole made to pay in Bates' revenge: British No 1 makes a confident start in his attempt to win a fifth national title

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The Independent Online
EVENTS on the opening day of the Volkswagen National Championships here indicated that it will be difficult to separate Jeremy Bates from a fifth singles title.

First, the British No 1 dispatched Sean Cole, who had the effrontery to defeat him in the quarter-finals two years ago. Then Mark Petchey, seeded to meet Bates in the semi-finals, found himself on the losing end of an absorbing match against Colin Beecher. To cap it all, the second seed, Chris Wilkinson, disappeared, beaten by the 30-year-old Nick Fulwood, a qualifier from Derbyshire.

Petchey, when eliminated by Neil Broad in the third round a year ago, complained that Telford's carpet courts were so fast that it would have been easier playing on the local ice rink. Cushioned acrylic has remedied that, as Petchey acknowledged, blaming an inability to take his chances for a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 defeat by the impressive Beecher.

Cushioning courts is one thing, cushioning players another. The slippery subject this year is finance: how much cash support should be given to players by the Lawn Tennis Association? And for how long?

The debate was revived on Monday by the 21-year-old Andrew Foster, who expressed disappointment at being deprived of his LTA travel allowance after winning pounds 23,000 by advancing to the fourth round at Wimbledon.

Though Foster declined to elaborate yesterday after a first-round win against David Ison, his mood was not calculated to improve when Chris Bailey announced his third sponsorship since moaning about the LTA at the peak of his Wimbledon performance. NCR, the computer company, are Bailey's latest supporters, in an estimated pounds 50,000 package which will also help three younger players, Tim Henman, Mandy Wainwright, and an 11-year-old, Hannah Collin.

Bailey's timing - he sounded off immediately after that electrifying Centre Court performance against Goran Ivanisevic at the All England Club - was better than Foster's, and a winning personality has also helped to attract commercial interest.

Bates, 31, spoke up for the governing body after his 6-0, 6-2 win against Cole. 'The way to make a better tennis player is when they have to put themselves on the line, and the best way is financially,' he said. 'The LTA has helped a lot of players, but there has to be a cut-off point, when people have got to start fending for themselves. I don't think there's anything wrong with this happening at 21. You are a better person if you invest in yourself.'

Beecher, a 23-year-old from Kent, ranked No 443 in the world, is grateful that the LTA has reviewed his situation and is prepared to pay his way to play overseas. 'This is because I have started to play better,' he said. 'But people who do earn money can afford to pay for themselves.'

Since losing to Beecher in the final of the Under-18 covered courts championships, Petchey has been the player to rise in the game. He is currently No 153, one of five British men in the world's top 200.

Wilkinson, ranked No 117, was defeated by Fulwood, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4. Though currently unranked, the man from Risley proved himself yet again to be one of the most difficult domestic players to beat on his day.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 39