Her first-round match against Mary Joe Fernandez, the second seed, was in mid-rally during the opening point when Durie collapsed in agony, clutching her left ankle, after playing a winning backhand down the line. Durie did not realise she had won the point until she asked the physiotherapist who treated and strapped the twisted joint in what was one of the earliest injury time- outs on record.
After a six-minute delay, Durie returned to the court, and won the game to love. The trouble was she was in pain every time she was forced to retrieve balls played into the corners, particularly on the forehand side. 'When I really had to put my foot down, it was like a knife going into my ankle,' she said.
Durie put up with the discomfort for five games before retiring after 23 minutes, when Fernandez was leading, 3-2, 15-0. 'There was no way I could keep going,' she said. 'It would have been silly to try.'
This was not quite the end of the British challenge. That came shortly afterwards, when Shirli- Ann Siddall, an 18-year-old from Dorset who had received a wild card, was defeated by another American, Katrina Adams, 7-6, 6-1 (the third British challenger, Amanda Grunfeld, also a wild card, was eliminated in straight sets on the opening day by Andrea Strnadova, of Czechoslovakia).
Durie is the second player to depart in swift and cruel circumstances in consecutive years at Brighton. Ann Devries, of Belgium, was the unlucky loser last year, retiring hurt at 30-30 in her opening game against the Russian Eugenia Manoikova in the final round of qualifying. Devries twisted an ankle while playing a forehand. 'I went for the backhand, and my foot stuck on the court,' Durie said. 'Can you believe it happening on the first point?'
It is the second time in her last five tournaments that Durie has been floored by injuries. She did not even make it as far as the court in San Diego in August after waking up with a stiff neck, and the time spent recovering hampered her prospects at the United States Open, where she was defeated in the first round by a fellow Briton, Clare Wood.
Back and shoulder ailments have previously handicapped the 32-year-old from Bristol, which is why she adopted a cocked backswing in her service action. 'I've not had ankle trouble before, and I'm just relieved that it's not the back this time,' she said.
'It's not a serious injury, and I'm still hoping to play in the doubles on Friday.' Her partner is the young German, Anke Huber: 'I'll just keep shouting, 'Yours] Yours]' and let Anke do the running, because she's half my age.'
Siddall's performance against the more experienced Adams, ranked 104, was a disappointment from the moment the Briton narrowly missed with a lob to go 4-2 down in the tie-break, which she lost, 7-3. Adams, a talented stroke- maker who is prone to inconsistency, gained sufficient confidence to control the rest of the match.
'I wish I had played the tie- break better and had not let the second set go so quickly,' Siddall said. Appearances in the third round at Beckenham and Edgbaston and the second round at Eastbourne and Wimbledon had raised her ranking to 224, and she now hopes to make an impression in the Volkswagen National Championships at Telford next month.
Steffi Graf needed only 43 minutes to account for Strnadova, 6-0, 6-4, to secure a place in the quarter-finals. Strnadova, who won the Wimbledon junior title in 1988 and 1989, was made to look out of her depth in the opening set, when Graf had time to keep an eye on her next opponent, Lori McNeil, who defeated Leila Meskhi, 7-6,
7-6, on the adjacent court.
While Graf looked far more impressive than in her opening match against Larisa Savchenko- Neiland, she was unable to outshine Jana Novotna, who totally outplayed Natalia Zvereva, 6-2, 6-0. Novotna, the fifth seed, could well pose a threat to Fernandez in the lower half of the draw and may well emerge as the final hurdle to Graf as the German goes for her sixth title at the Brighton Centre.
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