Tennis: Draper's first title a material gain

AFTER spending the best part of a week in the locker room - "having bets when the next bloody cloud would come over" - the Australian Scott Draper was overjoyed with yesterday's silver lining. The 24-year-old from Brisbane, ranked No 108 in the world, won the first ATP singles title of his career at the Stella Artois Championships.

The runner-up, Laurence Tieleman, a 25-year-old qualifier, ranked No 253, found the anti-climax of losing, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, easier to bear after taking a deep breath and counting his blessings, which included $50,000 (pounds 30,000) in prize-money, his biggest pay day.

For the tournament officials, the biggest blessing was that a bizarre, weather-beaten event had finished on time after much flapping of webbed feet beneath the water.

There is a certain irony that an Australian should win the title for a second consecutive year, given the tales of depression heard along the way from two of Draper's compatriots, Mark Philippoussis, the deposed champion, and Pat Rafter, the No 3 seed.

Draper was responsible for driving Rafter's confidence deeper into the ground by eliminating the United States Open champion in three sets in the second round. Draper also defeated Mark Woodforde, a fellow Aussie left-hander, in the semi-finals, 6-3, 6-2, winning all but the concluding game on rain-sodden Saturday.

Peering from behind one of the tallest silver cups in sport, Draper, 5ft 10in, explained that he nearly gave the tournament a miss in order to have surgery to his right knee after losing in the second round of the French Open. That can now wait until later in the year, Draper said, joking that he would use a portion of the $85,000 (pounds 53,000) prize to pay the surgeon.

Paris has romantic memories for Draper - he proposed to his wife, Kelly, on the Eiffel Tower. Three weeks ago, however, Kelly was taken to hospital in Paris on the eve of the French Open and Draper was refused a Tuesday start. Kelly's stomach complaint was cured within days and she was able to share yesterday's triumph.

For Australian tennis followers, Draper's breakthrough was overdue. Some had compared his all-court game to the great Rod Laver, who twice accomplished the Grand Slam, and whose pre-Wimbledon preparation included wins here at Queen's in 1962 and 1970 in what were then the London Grass Court Championships.

"It's flattering, but it doesn't fit," Draper said. "You're talking about a guy who is the greatest legend in international tennis, and I'm a no one. It's frustrating to hear people always building you up, saying you've got all the shots, and you're losing in the first round."

By no means a Laver, Draper is capable of doing a bit of damage at Wimbledon, where his best performance, even though he is yet to advance beyond the first round. "Who knows?" Draper said. "I could lose in the first round, I could reach the semis - I could win it. Anything is possible. Ray Ruffles [a leading Australian coach] was saying that in the 32 years he's been in the game he's never seen Wimbledon so open. And we've got a group of Aussies in there"

Tieleman, the lowest ranked player to play in a final of the Stella Artois, may be also the first to compete in the final wearing cerise shorts. He must be the the first Queen's Club member to wear them on the Centre Court, nifty though they are, having been run up by his brother, Henri James, a sportswear designer.

Tieleman, who trains with Peter Fleming at Queen's, was born in Belgium. His father is Dutch and his mother Italian, and he decided to play for the mother country after being rejected as a junior by Belgium and the Netherlands.

He will certainly be remembered by the Lawn Tennis Association, having been Greg Rusedski's opponent when the British No 1 fell and damaged his left ankle on Friday, and then saved two match points before eliminating Tim Henman, the British No 2, later the same day. "It was not a good feeling to win and see Greg in so much pain," Tieleman said. "I thought it was pretty much it when Tim had the match points, but he got very nervous and I took advantage."

Tieleman, who was beaten by Richard Krajicek in the third round at Wimbledon in 1993, will forsake this week's qualifying tournament in order to play in the Nottingham Open in an attempt to further improve his world ranking, which today will soar into the 130s.

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