Tennis: Searching for a qualified success: Richard Edmondson on the rocky road from Roehampton to Wimbledon

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The Independent Online
THE HAVES and have-nots of tennis were represented under a chestnut tree at the Bank of England Sports Club in Roehampton yesterday. Tallest and most dominating in the group was Todd Martin, the world No 9 and Sunday's conqueror of Pete Sampras in the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club. By his side was Matt Lucena, ranked 307 and with a career probably pointing in the same direction as his baseball cap. Backwards.

This was a complete break for Martin. He no longer has to come to Roehampton to qualify for Wimbledon and he felt he no longer had words to describe his weekend triumph. 'I deserve a day off,' he said.

Such luxury is not available to Lucena, who today embarks on the first of three matches he will need to win if his name is to be plopped into the draw proper for the All England Club's championships. This is just another field of dreams, another venue for the 23-year-old Californian. 'Tennis is not all like people see at Wimbledon,' he said. 'It's a grind.'

Roehampton SW15 may occupy the same A-Z page as Wimbledon, but in glamour and fervour it is planets away. Among the players there is an inevitable competitive instinct, but there is also a desperate camaraderie between these castaways.

Just as the main tour, the band is a United Nations collective. So while Britain can be dismayed it is not providing players for the peak, it is not the only nation providing the shirt-tail grabbers.

Those with the rackets were not the only ones yesterday to pale in comparison. While the ball boys and girls of Wimbledon may take their training from quarters at Hereford, the Roehampton contingent appeared to have done a weekend in Walmington-on-Sea.

Back on court, there was a surprise. For those who believe the women's game is an artistic relief from the premature climax of modern men's singles, there was a fulminating departure on Court 9, where Mariaan de Swardt was wielding her racket like a viking with a hammer.

Two years ago, the awesomely constructed South African qualified and then took Steffi Graf to three sets in the third round proper. Since then, however, her ranking has fallen from 52 to over 200 as the result of a shoulder injury. Papa de Swardt now seems to realise how tenuous form and fitness is. Yesterday, he brought his daughter and the vanquished Nanne Dahlman, of Finland, together for a post-match snap.

De Swardt, probably like most potential qualifiers, has one year and one man in mind: 1977, when John McEnroe fought his way through from Roehampton to the Wimbledon semi-finals.

(Photograph omitted)

Results, Sporting Digest, page 35

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