Tennis: Wilkinson falls on sword: Britain's last hope suffers from Sabatini Syndrome

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WHAT happened to Chris Wilkinson, Britain's last hope at the Stella Artois Championships here yesterday, could be described as the Sabatini Syndrome. For Roland Garros, Paris, read Queen's Club, London. Wilkinson, like Gabriela against Mary Joe Fernandez at the French Open, managed to lose after leading by a set and 5-1.

Wilkinson, who defeated the Wimbledon finalist Goran Ivanisevic in the second round, was up against another opponent with a big serve. The American David Witt began to crack the ball with renewed confidence at the first sign that Wilkinson was wavering, winning

3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Though Wilkinson was unable to create a match point, he twice served for a place in the quarter-finals, missing an opportunity to become the only British player other than Chris Bailey, in 1989, to reach the last eight.

Rain interrupted the match for two hours, at which stage the score was the reverse of Wednesday's football match near Boston: England 2, USA 0. Wilkinson continued to score, although there was an ominous sign of things to come when he was broken when serving for the opening set at 5-1. He also had to save a break point at 5-3.

Witt's struggle to find range with his serve continued in the second set, and he received a code violation for smashing a ball out of the court after being broken in the opening game. He did not abuse another ball until the match was within Wilkinson's grasp, and then he let fly with everything.

Wilkinson was broken at 5-2 on Court One just as the spectators on the Centre Court were applauding Michael Stich's impressive win against David Wheaton. Nor was his concentration helped as the Centre Court crowd began to stretch their legs before settling down to watch Stefan Edberg. 'When I was 5-1 up the crowd was getting a bit desperate, like me,' Wilkinson said.

The Briton was broken a second time when serving at 5-4, and Witt pounced on his serve again in the 12th game to level the match. Even then, Wilkinson had two break points in the fifth game of the final set. Witt saved them and then broke for 4-2. Having given his opponent 12 double faults, the American finished the match with his 11th ace.

'He didn't choke, I made him play the ball,' said Witt, whose serving had accounted for Scotland's Ross Matheson in the previous round. Ranked 15 places below Wilkinson, at No 191, Witt has yet to fulfil the potential he showed as a junior.

'When he got back I felt as if I was in a black hole,' Wilkinson said. 'It's frustrating and disappointing.' He collected a cheque for pounds 5,355 and prepared to travel north, hoping for a place in next week's Direct Line Manchester Open.

Today's Centre Court spectators will be treated to a contest between the two German Wimbledon champions, Boris Becker and Michael Stich. Becker, the third seed, defeated Guillaume Raoux, of France, 6-4, 6-4. Stich was in splendid form against Wheaton, an American who has the game to achieve better than a place in the fourth round at the All England Club. Stich not only served with confidence, but delighted the spectators with his cross-court backhand shots, winning 6-4, 6-3.

Edberg had to work hard to defeat another American, Richey Reneberg, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, but will consider every minute on court well spent as he finds his feet for Wimbledon.

Andre Agassi, who is recovering from tendinitis in his right wrist, is expected to make a decision today on whether or not he will play in Halle, Germany, next week.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 39