Tennis: McEnroe turns up the heat on Bates

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The Independent Online
In the main, common sense ruled at the Australian Open here yesterday, when the new 20-second time limit between points at Grand Slam tournaments was put to the test for the first time in high temperatures.

After three days of cool, overcast weather, the sun issued a challenge. The championships may have experienced more extreme conditions in previous years than 97F in the shade on the Centre Court and 91F on the outer courts, but it was still hot enough for competitors to cling to every moment of respite.

The discretion promised when the new rule was adopted, as a means of speeding up play, was duly exercised by most of the officials. If players dallied, even beyond the old 25-second limit on occasion, most umpires were inclined to be lenient.

Patrick McEnroe, who ended Jeremy Bates's participation in the tournament in straight sets, was among the grateful. Heat exhaustion caused the American to rest for 90 minutes before attending his interview.

"The umpire did say to me at one point, `You're taking a bit long with the change of ends', but I'm sure there were times when we were over 20 and 25 seconds," McEnroe said. "I think they [the officials] used a bit of discretion, and I think Jeremy and myself appreciated it."

Petr Korda begged to differ after receiving a warning for time-wasting during a change-over (90 seconds allowed, as before) in the course of recovering from two sets down to defeat Lars Burgsmuller, of Germany, on Court No 11.

"I came to the chair and I was waiting for the wet towel and the drink," the Czech said. "Then I got the warning. I felt like I was playing in an oven, especially with the guy who is sitting in the chair forcing us during the change-overs to keep the time. I was happy that I could survive today."

Korda, it may be remembered, was the hero of the 1994 Grand Slam Cup in Munich, barely able to walk after winning marathon matches against Pete Sampras and Michael Stich - and that was indoors in December.

Bates described the heat on Court No 6 as "a killer in the first set," but added that "you do get used to it and it certainly wasn't an issue after the first set."

Of greater concern to the 32-year-old Briton was his failure to take opportunites. He lost, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3, having led 2-0 in the first two sets and held two set points in the second. He finished the match with a double-fault.

Bates and McEnroe won their first-round matches under floodlights in the chill of Tuesday night, Bates overhauling Sweden's Henrik Holm in five sets while McEnroe dispatched Boris Becker in three.

When analysing yesterday's defeat, Bates considered the variables of the rubberised concrete courts. "Today," he said, "it was my inability to adjust to the changing surface of Rebound Ace. It might sound stupid, but it's almost like playing on a different surface. When it's cold, it plays so much slower. Today, it was like lightning."

Had he converted more than three of 20 break points, his mind might instead have been on a third-round match against Germany's David Prinosil.

"I had a lot of chances in the first two sets," Bates acknowledged. "The ones I went for, I missed, and the ones he blocked invariably went in, which is the sign of someone who has played a lot of tight matches. He played the big points very well. He wasnot a bit flustered." The confidence McEnroe gained from beating Becker on top of winning his first tour event in Sydney last week was evident.

"He looks innocuous," Bates said, "but he's very good. He hits the ball early and hits the angles very well, especially with the two-handed cross-court backhand, which takes you so far out of the court.

"I felt if I didn't take control of the points I was on a string. I served like a dog as well. I would have thought it was a pretty grotty match to watch. Very erratic. Some good points, and a lot of rubbish as well."

The 28-year-old McEnroe said he made the mistake of underestimating the heat and did not consume enough liquid before the match. "In Sydney it was warm, but it wasn't anything like today."

McEnroe did not take the precaution of wearing a cap. "I don't like wearing hats, basically because it kind of gets in my way, but I started thinking about it in the third set. Maybe I will try something if it's real hot again."

Perhaps when next he speaks to his older brother, John, he should mention the 1984 French Open final. In trying to reason why he wilted in the heat against Ivan Lendl from two sets up, the turbulent one still wonders if he should have worn a hat.

There was no problem yesterday for Andre Agassi, who played bare-headed on a muggy evening. The No 2 seed won, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 in 93 minutes, against the left-handed Jerome Golmard, who, in spite of the score, looked good enough to rise from No 16 in France and 207 in the world. Agassi, having disposed of two qualifiers in straight sets, now meets the Canadian Greg Rusedski, another left-hander, ranked No 103.

Two seeds fell in the men's singles, Richard Krajicek's serve deserting him against Marcos Ondruska and Wayne Ferreira committing 100 unforced errors against Aaron Krickstein.

In the women's singles, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the No 2 seed, advanced to a third-round meeting with Zina Garrison Jackson and Jana Novotna, the No 2 seed, overcame her Czech compatriot, Helena Sukova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

If it is possible for the Japanese to find sport diverting at this traumatic time, a third-round match between Kimiko Date, the No 7 seed, and Naoko Sawamatsu may be a pleasant interlude.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 39