Tennis: Petchey's glimpse of glory disappears in disruptions: Guy Hodgson watches the comeback of the British No 2 end in anticlimax after he recovers from two sets down

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The Independent Online
MARK PETCHEY loves Wimbledon. For him it is the highlight of the year. It is just a problem that events seem to conspire against him whenever he plays there.

Last year his second-round heroics against Jakob Hlasek were lost in the rush to admire the efforts of Britons elsewhere. Yesterday, just when it appeared he was going to garnish his newly achieved status as a top 100 player, his form disappeared in the wind. In dramatic fashion.

Petchey, the world No 98, had fought back from two sets down against Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman and the epithets 'gutsy Briton' were just being taken down and polished when they had to be returned rather hurriedly to the shelf again. In the deciding set he succumbed 6-1 in just 25 minutes. The anticlimax was as profound as that induced by the wet conclusion to the second day.

'It's Wimbledon,' the British No 2 said after the 6-2, 6-1, 2-6, 2-6, 6-1 defeat. 'It's a huge tournament for me and it's a huge blow for me. But I gave 110 per cent and I can't ask any more of myself.'

The match, played in a gusty, troublesome wind, was something of a mystery as the advantage slipped between the players as though there was only one power source on the court and they had to take turns plugging in to it. Petchey, hampered by a thigh injury aggravated at the Manchester Open last week, was broken in the first game in each of the first two sets and frankly looked to be heading for an embarrassing exit.

'I tend to be a slow starter anyway,' he said, 'and the injury meant I had to take two days off and I didn't get a chance to hit on the match courts before I played. They were a lot faster and lower than Manchester. It made a big difference for the first set and a half.'

Certainly Petchey bounced back although that might have been more due to his relaxing as the expectation declined rather than any acclimatisation.

He was given a helping hand by Bjorkman, who double-faulted twice in the first game of the third set and suddenly the loser was transformed into the guise of a potential winner.

Petchey's first serves began to pound the lines and Bjorkman, whose backhand returns in particular had made runs to the net an unrewarding gamble, seemed to melt before our eyes. The next two sets were won by the 23-year- old from Loughton, Essex, in 30 and 31 minutes respectively and it seemed a famous recovery was pending.

It proved to be an illusion as Bjorkman won his next service game to love. 'It was the key,' Petchey said. 'I had the momentum and I was playing well. It was just one of those games that got away from me. Suddenly I let him back a little bit when I could really have shut the door on him.'

Petchey was broken to 15 to go 3-1 down in the decider and, if anything, a break for a shower seemed more likely to rein in Bjorkman than his opponent. They were off for an hour and a half but it proved to be merely a reprieve. When they returned Petchey could win only a further two points.

'I don't think I've played a game on grass before where sets have been won and lost so easily,' Petchey said, trying to explain the lurches in form. 'The conditions played their part. It was tough to get the ball in court at times, it really was. I wanted to serve wide but you had to leave such a margin for error just to get the ball in.'

He concluded by saying he had plans to make significant inroads into the 100. 'My goal is much higher up in the rankings,' he said. A decent run at Wimbledon would be nice too.

Jo Durie, making her 17th appearance at the championships, and Julie Pullin, making her first, will also have to wait until next year. Durie was beaten 7-5, 6-2 by the 12th seed, Anke Huber, while Pullin lost 6-2, 6-4 to Meredith McGrath, the American winner at Eastbourne last week.

Because of the rain delays yesterday, the featured men's matches - the No 2 seed Michael Stich against Bryan Shelton, of the United States, and the No 5 seed Jim Courier against Byron Black - were postponed until today.

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