Tennis: Lee feels strain of success

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The Independent Online
The great British sporting revival has its limits and some were discovered at the Nottingham Open yesterday. The national cricket and football teams might be basking in an afterglow of achievement but to expect our tennis players below Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski to also rise above themselves was asking too much.

Chris Wilkinson and Martin Lee tried but failed, going down in straight sets in the first round, but at least they were overcome by players who are ranked leagues ahead of them. Not so long ago you feared for any British player whenever they went on court.

Lee, 19, could even draw encouragement from a 38-minute 6-1, 6-1 rout by Slovakia's Karol Kucera. "Disappointed? Not at all," he said. "I had to beat Jerome Golmard, who is 98 in the world at the moment, to qualify to play here so I'm feeling pretty content."

Lee admitted to feeling tired from his exploits last week at Queen's, where he reached the third round before being swatted by Goran Ivanisevic. He won only 22 points in total and his serve came in for particularly rough treatment from Kucera, who is ranked 64th in the world.

Lee took his first service game to 30 but had to wait for another 10 games for another success, by which time the match was all but over. The end came quickly, Kucera breaking him for a fifth time to 15.

The remedy, according to Lee, was more effort to build his body strength. "I took two weeks in the gym before Queen's," he said, "and I really felt the benefit. I need to work on my strength. Sometimes it's hard for me to stay with the power on court. The flashy shots can come when I need them.

"I don't set myself goals because I could end up disappointed if I don't achieve them. I'm just looking to improve week by week." Having gone up 118 places in seven days to 382 in the world, he was justifiably satisfied.

Which is not how you would describe Wilkinson, who surrendered 7-6, 6- 4, to Germany's Marc-Kevin Goellner. "His service game seemed to last 10 seconds," the British No 3 said, "while mine seemed to last 10 minutes." A reason for that was Goellner's accuracy, which brought three aces in the opening game and 20 in total.

Daniel Nestor also had reason to feel like the coconut in the shy as South Africa's Grant Stafford whistled nine first serves past his racket although his 6-1, 7-6 defeat might seem peaceful compared with what he will face next week.

Nestor found he had been drawn against the British No 1, Henman, in Wimbledon's first round and, having had to face Greg Rusedski on Court One last year, has every reason to feel aggrieved with his lot. "It's tough because he's going to have a lot of support," he said.

"The Wimbledon crowd are fair. At least they won't be heckling me or screaming between first and second serves like they do in Davis Cup matches in South America." Oh no?