Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Moping Medvedev blames his loss on tangled love match: Ukraine's rising star struck down by Cupid's arrow as French opponent takes advantage to reach third round

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The Independent Online
PRURIENCE has been running at record levels at this year's Wimbledon and into the trivia trade yesterday wandered Andrei Medvedev, the 18-year-old Ukrainian tipped as a possible future world No 1. Nobody pushed him, he just walked. Girlfriend trouble, he unwisely implied, caused him to lose his match.

It will be a long time before Medvedev forgets this lesson in public relations. After Cedric Pioline had beaten him 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Court 13, of all places, Medvedev said some chilling but distinctly vague things about personal distress inhibiting his game. 'I'm sad for a week, but what happened happened,' he said. 'If I can turn something back, I will, but at the moment I see no way.'

All sorts of grim images gate-crashed the mind. Few know it, but in 1986 Medvedev was at home in Kiev when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor blew up 50 miles away, and for two and a half years afterwards he practised tennis outdoors without being warned of the risks of radiation. Many of his friends have died, and Medvedev himself has suffered problems with his 'body and teeth'.

Thankfully it was nothing so black. Some routine digging revealed that Medvedev had merely been deflated by a row with Anke Huber, the German woman player, though you would never have guessed it from Medvedev's tone.

'I definitely didn't want to play because of what happened,' he said. 'I'm not ready to take it. I still cannot get it out of my mind,' and so on . . .

Huber was summoned to cast light on Medvedev's semi-confessions (the two were seen holding hands earlier in the week). 'I know him very well from junior tennis. We understand each other very well,' she said with a grin and an embarrassed wriggle. 'That's all I want to say about it.'

There was a serious point at the bottom of all this melodrama. Medvedev allowed himself to be so distracted on his first appearance at Wimbledon that he played like a lovelorn Lothario before a crowd eager to assess his many talents.

By suggesting, but not stating, what had brought his downfall in the Pioline match, Medvedev invited the full journalistic assault on a day when Andre Agassi and his newly trimmed chest were elsewhere (Agassi plays his third-round match today).

Doubtless had Medvedev's coach, Alexander Dolgopolov, been present he would have tried to prise Cupid's arrow from the young man's back, but here, too, there were mysterious intimations from Medvedev.

'He's in Germany,' Medvedev said. 'We both decided that we needed some rest. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes the person cannot take it anymore.' Dolgopolov's absence deprived Medvedev of another calming influence in the shape of the former's son, Sasha, who has a remarkable influence on the player despite being only four and a half years old.

You could only pity the lot of them. Medvedev and Huber - who, like Steffi Graf, has suffered the attentions of a stalker - are both 18 and are both having to live out their adolesences in a cage that gets loudly rattled as it moves from city to city.

Medvedev is prodigiously gifted, no doubt about that. Last year he jumped 202 places in the world rankings; this year he has already reached the semi-finals of the French Open and was seeded at No 10 for Wimbledon. In short, he is the most promising young men's player around.

Until now his openness has given him a fast track to the media's affections. In Monte Carlo earlier this year he said: 'When I close my eyes, I dream of being in a fast car, being with a girlfriend probably, or laying on the beach where there is a cocktail waitress for me.' He admits to flirting with girls during games, and wanting to raise his world ranking as an inducement to the opposite sex.

It was all part of Medvedev insisting, 'I am not like a robot' - and who could censure him, given the unthinkable legacy of Chernobyl, the fatigue and loss of appetite he suffers when he returns to Kiev? It was just that yesterday Medvedev the exploring teenager became entangled with Medvedev the chastened wunderkind, and he lost an important tennis match as a consequence.

Even his sister, Nathalie Medvedeva, was interrogated after she had won her own game on Court Five. 'The first thing I did when I got to my court was send the ball-girl to check on Andrei's score,' she said. But did she know anything about his little local difficulty before the game? 'That's his problem, that's his life,' she said.

As Mama Cass once sung, unrequited love can be a bore. Especially when it costs you the game.

(Photographs omitted)