Tennis: Gritty Sapsford typifies triumphant British trio

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TITTER YE NOT but Greg Rusedski's success was not the only triumph for British men's tennis yesterday. In the quintessentially English setting of the Bank of England sports ground in south-west London, true grit got three Brits out of three through their final qualifiers for Wimbledon - very much against the odds.

Danny Sapsford, having beaten Petr Korda on Tuesday, saw off the American Michael Joyce, ranked 376 places above him; Jamie Delgado came from two sets down to knock out the big-serving German Franz Stauder; and Arvind Parmar beat the equally powerful Max Mirnyi of Belarus, rated 345 places ahead of him.

However long they last next week when the real thing begins, it was a significant achievement for all three.

To heighten the unexpected sense of excitement, Sapsford and Delgado were playing on adjacent courts and claimed victory within 30 seconds of each other to the disbelieving delight of a good-sized crowd gathered on the grassy bank alongside. After his exertions against Korda - who he will follow into retirement after his next defeat - the last thing 30-year-old Sapsford wanted was a five-setter in the fierce sun. Only once before had he ventured into that territory, losing to Todd Martin eight years ago at the US Open but yesterday he was on court for almost three and a half hours, and looked by the end as if he could hardly stagger off it. Playing to the crowd in what could have been the last match of his career, he threw himself around like a Premiership goalkeeper.

At that stage, retirement looked imminent but the Surrey man summoned up all his willpower to take the fourth 6-4 amid a flurry of breaks, then finally accepted the last of four match points for 8-6 in the fifth. The crowd's roar must have acted as a spur for Delgado, who at that exact moment had reached match point against Stauder.

For two sets, won 6-3, 7-6, the tall German had looked like blasting him off the court. Delgado, however, sensed a weakness. "I knew he was a crazy sort of guy, who might blow." Blow he did, losing the next three sets 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 to give Delgado his ticket to the All England Club.

Oddly, he will meet a namesake, Paraguay's Ramon Delgado, while Sapsford plays Julian Alonso of Spain.

Parmar, now based in Nottingham and playing at Wimbledon for the first time, has the hardest task of the three musketeers, against the Spaniard Albert Costa, twice a Grand Slam quarter-finalist, who reached a ranking of 14 last year.

"I've earned the right to play there," Parmar said. Which no one could deny.