Tennis: Memorable comeback from Bates

TENNIS: British No 1 wins but Becker and Ivanisevic make exit from Aust ralian Open
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The only sportsmen likely to make England's cricketers feel less embarrassed about their shortcomings are Britain's tennis players. But that is not what motivated Graham Gooch and Alec Stewart to spend yesterday at the Australian Open.

Here was an opportunity to see the American showman Andre Agassi play, and win, his first match at the championships, and to glimpse Gabriela Sabatini before injury hastened the Argentian's early departure.

But, yes, Mark Petchey and Jeremy Bates would be swatting balls for the old country on Court No 14, and it would be interesting for their compatriots to see where they landed.

In Petchey's case, more shots were out than in. After leading by a set and a break, he lost to the Czech Radomir Vasek for the second time within a week, on this occasion by 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

Bates also led by a set and a break against Henrik Holm, but seemed destined to go the way of Petchey when the Swede recovered and went ahead by two sets to one and 5-1. Holm, ranked nine places above the Englishman at No 64, beat Stefan Edberg in the first round of last year's French Open and Michael Stich in the first round of the 1993 United States Open.

What transpired was one of the most spectacular comebacks of Bates's career as he secured a second-round match against Patrick McEnroe, who ambushed Boris Becker, the No 3 seed, in straight sets.

Though Gooch and Stewart left after Bates's opening set and headed towards the nearby MCG, where Australia's first and second teams were disputing the World Series, a detachment of the "Barmy Army" of England cricket supporters remained at the courtside.They exchanged chants with the Swedish camp followers and created an atmosphere reminsicent of a Davis Cup tie.

There was a certain irony to this for the 32-year-old Bates, who recently announced his retirement from the British team following demotion to the third division by Romania. Bates had lost the opening singles rubber against Razvan Sabau, a 17-year-old ranked No 787 in the world, after leading by two sets and 5-1 and having three match points in his grasp.

"When I got to 5-5 I thought about the match with Sabau," Bates said. "I thought, `Maybe it's my turn'." It was, but not before a good deal of excitement and a few doses of acrimony over the three hours and six minutes.

Bates, for example, was infuriated with the officials when Holm was credited with an ace on the final point of the second set tie-break. He asked the American umpire, Peter Kasavage, if it was necessary for the line judges to be wearing sunglasses in thetwilight. When advised to play on, Bates addressed Kasavage as, "My lord messiah, all powerful.''

Holm responded to decisions he disliked with a sarcastic "Thank you, Charlie", though he expressed no gratitude when given a code violation for hurling his racket after losing the fourth-set tie-break, 7-5.

Bates, broken in the first service game of the fifth set, was determined not to be denied after working so hard. He fought his way into the lead, taking advantage of the Swede's insistence on delivering serves to a trusty backhand, and curbed signs of nerves to win with a backhand volley on his fourth match point, 6-4, 6-7, 3-6, 7-6, 6-3.

Though he defeated Becker on the grass of London's Queen's Club last June, Bates has never before encountered Patrick McEnroe. He did, however, beat the 28-year-old American's older brother, John, in Washington DC in 1992.

Becker, the winner of five of his six previous matches against McEnroe the younger, responded poorly to a confident challenge by the winner of last week's New South Wales Open in Sydney, his first tour singles championship.

"I wish I had an excuse," the German said after losing, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6, in two hours and five minutes.

McEnroe considers that his game has broadened through hard work and experience. "I've improved my forehand, I'm moving better, and I'm a lot stronger than I was," he said. "And I have worked on my second serve so I don't get hurt like I used to.''

Asked if his brother had advised him how to play Becker, he said: "Yes - he said serve wide, come in, and hit drop-volley winners! I did speak to John after I won Sydney, and he gave me some encouragement, but I've played Boris a number of times and knewwhat I had to do.''

Before Becker was dumped out of Agassi's half of the draw, the fourth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic had been eliminated from the top half, headed by Pete Sampras, the defending champion.

Ivanisevic, defeated by Germany's Carl-Uwe Steeb, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3, has not won a match in the majors since losing to Sampras in the Wimbledon final last July. He was beaten in the first round of the US Open by Markus Zoecke.

Agassi, while dressed like something washed up on the beach at St Kilda, put his shots together to dominate Grant Stafford, though the South African did break serve in the second set before losing, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

Just when it seemed safe to tip Sabatini to assert herself in a Grand Slam event, physical problems took a toll. The fifth seed, who won the New South Wales Open on Sunday, experienced pain in her back from the start of the second set while losing to theAmerican Marianne Werdel Witmeyer, 6-4, 6-4.

It was an historic day for Madagascar. The 17-year-old Dally Randriantefy, who qualifed to become the first player from that nation to compete in a Grand Slam tournament, won her first-round match against Florencia Labat, a former world junior champion from Argentina, 6-3, 7-6.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 39