Tennis: Richardson wins acclaim despite loss to Goellner

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ANDREW RICHARDSON grew in stature yesterday, which is rather frightening considering he was 6ft 7in to begin with. The 23-year-old left-hander from Peterborough was near to advancing to his first ATP Tour quarter- final until he misjudged a forehand drive and was finally bamboozled by a net cord.

Although not as close to defeating Marc-Kevin Goellner as Greg Rusedski, who held two match points against the German before losing the night before, Richardson's performance was one of the the highlights of the week from a British standpoint, second only to Tim Henman's win against Richard Krajicek.

Ranked No 3 in Britain and No 145 in the world, Richardson has been good value for the wild card which gained him entry to the inaugural Guardian Direct Cup in Battersea Park. While fortunate to catch Marc Rosset on an off day in the first round (the Swiss retired ill when trailing 6-3, 2-1), Richardson impressed with the quality of his serving and shot-making yesterday.

Having lost, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5, he will now return to the Satellite and Challenger circuit to prepare for a call to join Rusedski and Tim Henman for Britain's Davis Cup tie against Ukraine in Newcastle on 3 to 5 April.

"Flex", as Richardson is known to his fellow Brits in ironic allusion to a lanky physique, had his serve broken in the opening game but was then encouraged by the No 68-ranked Goellner's propensity for double-faults. Richardson scored only one point off his own bat in the second game, the German double-faulting four times to beckon his opponent into the contest.

Goellner's service errors cost him 13 points in total, but Richardson's misplaced forehand in the concluding game proved to be the crucial shot after the players had entertained the crowd for more than an hour and 50 minutes.

Sensing his opportunity to push to the match into a second tie-break, having won the first, 7-4, Richardson pounced eagerly on to a service return at 5-6, 30-30. In his anxiety to kill the point, he drove the ball over the baseline. "I just took my eye off the ball," he said.

Goellner, presented with the match point, managed to put his racket on Richardson's final serve. The return clipped the net cord, and Richardson, scrambling to retrieve, dumped the ball in the net.

Richardson, although disappointed with the finish, took heart from the experience he had gained. The spectators were delighted to see another Briton capable of competing at this level of the game and were left with warm memories of two of his shots that had thrilled them, a spectacular running forehand winner and a reflex return conjured from behind his back.

Goellner's win at least assured the promoters of a British resident in the last eight. Born in Rio to a German diplomat, the 27-year-old lived in Tel Aviv, Sydney, and Recife, Brazil, before moving to his fatherland. He moved to Hemel Hempstead four years ago. "I like England, and I thought I would have some peace and quiet here," he said.

Media pressure quickly mounted in Germany after Goellner won his first title in Nice in 1993, defeating Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg. "I shot up like a rocket, and the press didn't give me any time," he said. Goellner's nickname, "Baby Boom Boom", underlines his point.

Sadly, leading players continued to leave the arena. Petr Korda, the top seed, lost a chance to challenge Pete Sampras' position as the world No 1 after losing to Cedric Pioline, last year's Wimbledon finalist, 6- 3, 6-3.

There were no cartwheels or scissor-kicks from Korda on this occasion. He packed his bags and booked a flight to Prague, where he will have treatment for a back injury. "I'll visit Dr Pavel Kolar as soon as I get back," Korda said. "He looks after the Davis Cup team and has just got back from Nagano with the hockey team. I hope he's not too drunk after the Czech victory."

Pat Rafter is still with us. The Australian No 2 seed will play South Africa's Wayne Ferreira in the quarter-finals, having beaten Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson, 6-3, 7-6.