Tennis: Foster makes a winning return to the real world: Guy Hodgson follows Britain's new tennis hero as he takes up the challenge of life on a lower plane

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The Independent Online
THE WINDOWS of the houses overlooking Redland Green in Bristol yesterday were conspicuously empty. Not a curtain twitched, not a face appeared to watch a man who had held the nation's attention nine days earlier. If Andrew Foster needed an illustration of the perverseness of public attention he got an oil painting.

Dress a tennis match in purple and green and call it Wimbledon and you have to beat the British away from the doors. But take it out of 'The Championships' and the indifference reaches the proportions of the All England Club strawberry prices. Millions of television viewers forsook Coronation Street to watch Foster the last time he played; yesterday the test card would have got a bigger audience.

Barely 500 turned up to see the 21-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent play in the Bristol Challenger Trophy compared with the hordes that would have filled any court five times over when he met Pete Sampras with a Wimbledon quarter-final at stake. An encouraging figure for a lowly event, but bewildering to anyone who does not appreciate the public's love affair with all things stamped SW19.

In fact it was a hugely upbeat attendance as the advance bookings and takings for the first two days surpassed the money accrued for the tournament 12 months ago. Even so it was a coming down to earth with the impact of a meteorite for Foster who was trading blows with the world No 1 the last time he took up his racket in anger.

It was not as if he could rest on the plaudits acquired with his new reputation. Sampras had provided him with a risk-free task of nothing to lose whereas yesterday's match against Miles Maclagan had repercussions for his rank and his confidence. Maclagan, 18, belongs to the generation chasing him and to lose would have been an unhappy aftermath to what had been the best performance of his life.

The reception Foster got from the crowd was encouraging and so was the start, breaking his opponent in his first service game. Then the real world of scrapping for points in tennis's foothills intruded in the shape of a break back by Maclagan and four set points for the younger man. Foster's serve carried him through 12-10 in the tie-break and he eventually prevailed 7-6, 6-4.

Foster was resolutely calm about the match as he had been about the ballyhoo surrounding his Wimbledon performance. 'I don't think anyone enjoys the attention,' he said, 'but it's nice to see my picture in the paper. It was difficult, Miles has it in him to be a top 100 player, but it didn't feel too different from Wimbledon.'

Anyone who witnessed Foster freeze in the first two sets against Sampras would not agree but in the sense of British optimism there were shades of the All England Club. Jeremy Bates and Chris Bailey also won and so far, apart from Maclagan, the home nation has had a 100 per cent success rate.

Today Foster meets Bates which ought have a lot of heads trying to gain vantage points. Bristol Racquets and Health Club, not to mention everyone else, would rock with surprise if it did.

(Photograph omitted)

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