Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Foster unfazed by Sampras' mystique: World No 1 next for Briton ranked 332nd while his compatriot talks himself up for a Centre Court meeting with former champion

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The Independent Online
EVEN the viruses have been on Britain's side. Andrew Foster, the 21-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent, progressed to the last 16 of the men's singles here yesterday when Andrei Olhovskiy, of Russia, withdrew midway through their match complaining of flu-like symptoms. 'They're so scared of us they're giving up,' spectators on No 14 court were heard to say.

There is just one problem. Foster's next opponent is the world No 1 and top seed, Pete Sampras. But then, did Olhovskiy himself not cause the upset of last year's tournament by beating Jim Courier, who was ranked precisely the way Sampras is now? 'I can beat him (Sampras),' Foster said after being goaded into it. 'In the fourth round I can have no negative thoughts.'

Nor compassionate ones, judging by his brisk departure from the court yesterday. It was suggested, rather ludicrously, that Foster should have stayed behind to commiserate with the hapless Olhovskiy, who had to be given two painkillers after being visited by a doctor at 4-5 (and one set down) in the second set.

'He wouldn't have really wanted that,' Foster said before being hit with one of the all-time classic post-match questions: 'Is this lack of compassion a sign of a new killer instinct in British tennis?'

But it was a bit less heroic than that. Foster said: 'We all get injured from time to time. I've had to concede matches. We both wanted to win. That's why he came on court, and he had to give up when he realised he wasn't going to. I can't relate to that (the sympathy thing). I don't think you'll find Jim Courier being too sympathetic.'

Olhovskiy's point of departure came at set point for Foster in the second with the score at 6-5. The Russian was pale and listless and traipsing about the court like Graham Gooch with a hangover.

'Fozzie', as he has inevitably been dubbed, had won the first 6-3 after breaking Olhovskiy's serve early on. 'I do believe that even if he was 100 per cent fit I was still going to win that match,' Foster said, and it was hard to think otherwise, even if you did compare their rankings. Olhovskiy is rated 49 in the world, with Foster on 332.

Olhovskiy was famous for the duration of a Sunday breakfast after he beat Courier on the first Saturday last year. Foster will inhabit the newspaper columns rather longer if he overcomes the highly talented Sampras, who dismantled Byron Black yesterday 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.

He will also be considerably richer. By 'winning' against Olhovskiy here Foster guaranteed himself pounds 21,000, which is more than twice as much as he won in the whole of last year. 'I got pounds 7,000 (at Wimbledon) last year. That's the most I've won in one go,' Foster said. Jeremy Bates, Britain's No 1, drives a red Porsche with a personalised number plate, despite having advanced no further than the fourth round at Wimbledon, so perhaps Foster can afford to consult a few car dealers over the weekend.

The core of his success has been effective serving (15 aces yesterday) with tenacity and aggression in the delivery of his groundstrokes. 'I've actually been serving very well for the last three or four months, but the results haven't shown until this particular week,' he said. 'I've been starting off the matches well, confidently, and just enjoying it.'

Cue lots of talk about the 'spirit' in the British camp. 'The camaraderie at the moment is great,' Nick Brown, Foster's coach, said. 'It wasn't always that way, but everybody's working together now. At the end of last year we (he and Foster) went away for three months (to Australia and the Far East) and the results weren't that great. But he worked hard, and it started to pay off at the start of the year.'

Foster can not recall ever having seen Sampras in the locker room, let alone speaking to him. Having reached this stage, Foster is guaranteed a promotion to No 210 in the world, and as Olhovskiy said after beating Courier, any player around this mark in the rankings has a chance of defeating one of the big shots if circumstances allow. Is Foster daunted? 'Not at all, no,' he said.

'It's a one on one.'

(Photograph omitted)