Tennis: Wimbledon '93 / Foster keeps home fires burning

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The Independent Online
IT WAS almost getting silly. Two Brits nearly in the third round with the prospect of more to come today. Then, finally and frustratingly, Mark Petchey, on the brink of victory and with a match-point in his grasp, toppled over and was lost to Wimbledon for another year.

Day Three of the Championships and, Agassi excepted, it is the home players who continue to make the back-page news. Andrew Foster (the bearded one from Stoke on Trent) even exceeded his first-round performance to barnstorm his way past the Mexican Luis Herrera, who ended Jimmy Connors's last stand here 12 months ago.

Foster wrapped up his 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory in 1hr 40min and was utterly convincing throughout, his shot-making and all- court authority a perfect illustration of the self-belief British underdogs can generate when they have a Wimbledon victory under their belts.

His whiskers will become a more familiar sight the longer he hangs around even if at

1000-1, a big cut from his starting price of 1,500-1, the bookmakers William Hill refuse to get excited about his chances. They have yet to find a single punter willing to invest in him at either price.

Nevertheless, his supporters are growing in number, though not all of them will be impressed by his choice of hero. It was not a tennis player, although he enjoys 'watching Boris play', but the World Boxing Council super-middleweight champion, Chris Eubank.

'I like his attitude, his arrogance,' Foster said. 'It appeals to me. Not arrogance so much but his positive mind. He's very single-minded and knows what he wants to do.'

Indeed, there was an early knockout intensity about Foster's work from the moment he stepped on court. His serve was an irresistible weapon that Herrera, ranked 86 in the world to Foster's 332, found impossible to crack. Foster lost five points in his first seven service games.

'I was very focused and that's what it boils down to when the crowd is making a lot of noise. It's the best I've ever played. If I'm serving well everything else just seems to flow. It was difficult for me to forget my first match because everyone had been saying 'well done, well done'. Right now I'm very happy but I think I'll just have to wait until the tournament finishes before I can start to evaluate what's happened here.'

At no time was his progress in doubt and only once did Herrera break serve. It is a standard the 21-year-old Foster will do well to match next time out when he faces the Russian Andrei Olhovskiy, who last year earned his 15 minutes of fame by ousting Jim Courier on Centre Court.

Petchey, blond and athletic, is more easily recognisable than Foster. But not on court yesterday, where his opponent was the fair-haired and muscular Jakob Hlasek. For five sets they played matching tennis before the Swiss Davis Cup player clinched a third-round match with Boris Becker 7-6, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 10-8 after an enthralling struggle lasting 3hr 40min.

There was little to fault the 22-year-old Petchey. Winners flowed from his racket across court and down the line, forehand and then backhand. He was very secure overhead and on the volley and his heavy serving provoked this comment from John Alexander, the television commentator and former Australian Davis Cup player, who, as Petchey tucked into a banana midway through the second set, said: 'If he can serve like a gorilla he may as well eat like one as well.'

Only in the final execution did he let himself down when the prize so close at hand became an enemy rather than a friend. Having retrieved a break, he sensed his opportunity and a wonderfully angled backhand took him, at 5-4, to within two points of victory. In the 12th game came his one and only match point before a forehand died in the net.

He was not to come so close again as Hlasek, who once rose to No 7 in the world, moved to victory on Court 13, which is becoming something of a happy hunting ground for him as last year, and at the same stage, he outlasted Petr Korda 16-14 in the fifth set.

'I'm bitterly disappointed, what else can I feel,' Petchey said. 'A point to play Becker in the third round at Wimbledon - that opportunity doesn't come round every day. I played a great match, I gave it everything and I came out second best. I'm gutted, I really am.'

'There's a good team spirit among the British players at the moment but we have to carry on from this and make it through the next 11 months until Wimbledon comes round again. It's no good doing it for only one week of the year. Only through consistency and more victories will we get guys into the top 100 - not just by playing well for two weeks here. We have to take what we've done over the last month into the real world, back on to the tour.'

The 18-year-old Miles Maclagan briefly held the prospect that he could make it through another round before losing 7-6, 4-6, 2-6, 2-6 to Christo Van Rensburg of South Africa.