Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Bailey within an ace of making Britain's day: Last year's finalist forced to rely heavily on his reserves of resilience and a trusted weapon while the elder statesman bids farewell

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THE atmosphere was more electric than a month of middle Sundays. The Fred Perry statue gave a quiver, and Fred himself nodded in approval. Alas, Chris Bailey could not quite deliver the British victory that would have made the day complete.

As the evening shade covered the court, the gallant struggle of the 25-year-old from Norwich to overcome Goran Ivanisevic, last year's runner-up to Andre Agassi and the man with the most lethal serve in the world, came to an end. The Croat won 5-7, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 9-7 after three hours and 34 minutes, finishing the job in characteristic fashion with his 34th ace.

Bailey had a match point himself in the 12th game, changing his racket before cracking a splendid backhand down the line. A nervous Ivanisevic, facing a determined opponent and a raucous, almost disbelieving Centre Court crowd who willed in every Bailey shot, dumped his first serve into the net. His second attempt struck the net-cord and bounced inches inside the service line. He then produced an ace and from that moment was safe.

In the next game, Bailey saved a break point and kept the momentum going. But by that time the confidence had returned to Ivanisevic's play. He held to love and then broke the Briton, who saved three more break points before the the left-handed Croat conjured the most spectacular shot of the match, a forehand top-spin lob on the run.

Bailey was then lured into directing a low forehand volley into the net and this set Ivanisevic up for a cool finish. The time was 8.40, the sun had disappeared, and a great victory had eluded the British game.

The final set could not have been more dramatic. Ivanisevic, who was beaten at Wimbledon by another Briton, Nick Brown, two years ago, was beginning to feel the full force of home fervour around his ears, and his opponent was serving with confidence.

Bailey twice held to love and then sent ripples of anticipation around the stands by breaking Ivanisevic to take a 3-1 lead. The difference between players who scale the world ranking computer and those like Bailey, who is No 263, was then clearly demonstrated.

The fifth seed broke back immediately, just as he had when Bailey took a 2-0 lead in the fourth set. This time, Bailey was not helped when a pigeon decided to make an elaborate circular tour of the court when the Briton was 15-30. Bailey gently lobbed a ball in the bird's direction and a ball-boy helped shoo it away. But Bailey's concentration had wavered and his opponent took advantage.

While the contest was still even, Bailey showed himself capable of hitting aces on a par with his opponent's, three of them coming in the 11th game. But when it came to the finish, Ivanisevic defied an eager opponent and a groundswell of popular opinion, ignoring those moments when the crowd became so carried away as to cheer his double-faults.

Ivanisevic admitted afterwards that he felt close to packing his bags. 'While I was out there I could see myself checking in at the airport and catching a flight home,' he said.

The match was not without its lighter moments. During the second game of the fourth set Bailey scurried towards the net in pursuit of a backhand drop volley, scraped the ball over the line and then collided with the netcord judge, knocking her chair over. The judge caught Bailey's racket and handed it back to him after he had courteously helped her back to her feet.

The day brought a touch of poignancy amid all the excitement with the sombre departure of one of the sport's greatest players.

Ivan Lendl let his rackets do the talking, and they came on like Harpo Marx. Frustrated again in his quest for the championship - perhaps even finally - the 33-year-old former world No 1 walked out of the grounds without so much as a word to the press.

Having lost in the opening round of the Australian Open and the French Open, Lendl at least had a win under his belt before he made his exit from Court One. Another small consolation was that the seventh seed's conqueror, Arnaud Boetsch, is ranked a respectable 24 in the world whereas Stephane Huet, the club player who eliminated him in Paris, was ranked only 23 in France.

The abrupt passing of Lendl, the oldest player in the men's singles tournament, along with that of the youngest, the 18-year-old Andrei Medvedev, seeded No 10, had a startling effect on the draw.

Stefan Edberg cannot now meet a seeded opponent until the semi-finals. The Swedish second seed showed impressive form with a straight-sets win against Israel's Amos Mansdorf and in the third round will play Chris Wilkinson, another of the British standard bearers.

Lendl did spare a few words for Boetsch after losing 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. 'When we shook hands he said 'great match and good luck',' the 24-year-old Frenchman said.

Boetsch's first recollection of Lendl is one of watching him retrieve a two-set deficit against John McEnroe to triumph in the 1984 French Open final. 'I was with my club close to Germany playing team matches, but I watched the final on TV,' he said. That was the first of Lendl's eight Grand Slams; the moment when he ceased to be perceived as a rich runner-up.

Asked what his thoughts would be if it proved Lendl had indeed played his last wimbledon, Boetsch said: 'It's a shame, it's a pity because it's good to see a great personality like him. I'm a bit sad about that because I like to watch all the players like Becker, like Lendl, like Leconte and like all these guys and I don't want them to leave.'

There was, however, further evidence yesterday that Lendl's career is beginning to wind down. 'I got a lot of confidence with my serve,' Boetsch said, 'because I knew he could miss a lot and he didn't move so well after the first set.'

Martina Navratilova, unlike her former Czech compatriot, continues to enjoy life on the lawns. The No 2 seed advanced to the third round with a victory against Ros Fairbank Nideffer. Gabriela Sabatini and Mary Joe Fernandez also came through unscathed.

Results, Order of play, page 37

(Photograph omitted)