Tennis: Petchey climbs ladder: Briton reaches second round of the US Open

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BACK in 1987, a British junior defeated an American in the second round of the boys' singles at the United States Open. The Brit was Mark Petchey, from Loughton, Essex; the American was Jim Courier, from Dade City, Florida.

Courier rose to the top of the game, with four Grand Slam titles on his CV, and has experienced sufficient traumas since losing his No 1 ranking to half turn his back on the sport. Petchey, never high enough up the ladder for a nose bleed, yesterday played his first match in the main singles draw of a Grand Slam outside Wimbledon. And won.

The 6-4, 7-6, 6-3 victory against Karol Kucera, of the Slovak Republic, who is ranked 14 places above Petchey at No 69, means that the much-abused British game has a representative in the second round of the singles. Having beaten a player good enough to be the runner-up to Spain's Alberto Berasategui on the clay of Croatia last weekend, he now plays the Australian Todd Woodbridge.

Petchey was in good company here seven years ago, when Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic and Michael Chang were in a junior event won by the American David Wheaton. 'A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then,' Petchey said; much of it over his head.

Although Britain's unprecedented slump in the Davis Cup this year must have been a drain on Petchey's confidence, the 24- year-old responded to the defeat in Portugal in March with a win against Michael Stich in the South African Open and halted a sequence of three first-round losses after demotion against Romania by beating Chang in Los Angeles.

Courier was back in business on Tuesday night, precisely two weeks after declaring an indefinite end to his career. He looked astonishingly refreshed and may have started a trend: quit today, play tomorrow.

Aaron Krickstein, an American compatriot with a penchant for marathons (on five occasions he has retrieved a 2-0 deficit in winning matches at the US Open) was the test set before the 11th-seeded Courier in the opening round. The players were back in the locker- room after two hours and three minutes, Krickstein a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 loser, having made his earliest exit in nine visits to Flushing Meadow.

Courier, after falling to Alex Corretja, of Spain, in the second round of the recent Indianapolis tournament (which was the scene of the former world No 1's last triumph a year earlier), said that his rackets would stay in his bag until his heart told him to pick them up again - 'and I don't know if that is going to be one day, one week, one month, one year, 10 years.'

What quickened his heart? 'I went away from Indianapolis not really thinking one way or another whether I was going to play. I knew that I needed to go home. I had a couple of days' rest and slept on it a little bit and thought about what I wanted to do.

'On the third day, I woke up and said, 'God it's hot, I don't know if I want to play golf today, maybe I'll go play tennis.' And that's when I knew I was ready to play.'

Is that all there was to it? 'I was playing all year without a break. If it wasn't a Grand Slam I might have taken this week off, but the reason I play the game is to play in the big tournaments. I didn't have the fire in Indianapolis, and that's what I was searching for. It's there. It was just hiding.' Courier dominated Krickstein from the start, dictating the points in a baseline duel.

Sampras, playing his first match in a tournament since Wimbledon, showed no obvious distress from his recent ankle injury. The defending champion defeated Kevin Ullyett, a South African qualifier, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.

(Photograph omitted)