Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Wilkinson's game finding a new edge: 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
IT IS more than a match, this Centre Court confrontation between Stefan Edberg, blond, Swedish, part of the Wimbledon establishment, and Chris Wilkinson, dark, British, a Wimbledon wannabee and risking a huge let-down by claiming he is here to win the whole event.

Today at midday it is Wilkinson against his opponent but also his opponent's coach; Tony Pickard, the British Davis Cup captain with whom the 23-year-old from Southampton has some making up to do after his disastrous debut for his country in May.

It is Edberg v Wilkinson but also Edberg v the Centre Court crowd who inspired Chris Bailey to unprecedented heights in his magnificent tussle with Goran Ivanisevic and believe they can do the same for the British No 2.

If Bailey had traversed that one final step to victory it would have been a surprise surpassing any of the home performances in recent times. For Wilkinson to dethrone the man who has twice been the champion would be something else again.

Wilkinson does not lack belief. 'I've got a chance to beat him for sure,' he said. 'At the moment I don't mind playing anyone.'

Brave words from one who discovered his Wimbledon motivation thousands of miles away on a Greek beech. Pickard would not necessarily prescribe the same for his man but in Wilkinson's case it has clearly given him a new edge.

'After the Davis Cup I was in a bit of a sulk so I went on holiday to Greece where it was sun, sex and sand and I came back refreshed. Every time I step on court now I'm really up for it and I'm excited about playing,' he added.

It is quite possible his Davis Cup captain favoured sending him even further away after the tie in Hungary. It was a first performance to forget - he lost the first rubber and then, with the match at 2-2, the decider to drive Britain into the competition's wilderness - though he is unlikely to have forgotten it when he comes to select his next squad.

No longer sulking, Wilkinson returned to tennis and the boost of a victory over Ivanisevic at Queen's. But even when his next match with David Witt was entering a crucial phase Pickard failed to register much interest, preferring instead to watch Edberg warm up on the next-door court when many of those sitting around him were craning to get a sight of the British action.

Wilkinson, then, has not only to win over Edberg today but also his mentor. Pickard might claim to have split loyalties but when it comes to the crunch he will be with the No 2 seed with whom he has enjoyed such a long and fruitful association.

At least the British hopeful has a two-game start, according to Bailey, Thursday night's would-be hero. 'Edberg is not just playing Chris, he is playing the whole of the Centre Court and the rest of Britain as well,' he said. 'The crowd gave me such a lift and every time they roared it brought me out in goose bumps.'

Yesterday Wilkinson went into overtime as he was engaged in a prolonged four-set men's doubles match before he and Paul Hand finally won through 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 against the Jensen brothers, Luke and Murphy, the No 9 seeds and champions at the French Open. That contest lasted three hours and eight minutes and after an hour's break he was required on court again for a mixed doubles with Julie Salmon against Byron Talbot, of South Africa, and Andrea Temesvari, of Hungary. The British pair took just over an hour to win 6-4, 6-3.

Meanwhile the Lawn Tennis Association has said it is still trying to put together a package to enable Bailey to continue working with his New Zealand coach, Nick Carr. The British No 3 had criticised the authority following his match with Ivanisevic, claiming it had said it could no longer afford to keep Carr on.

It was all a 'misunderstanding' said Richard Lewis, the LTA's director of national training. 'Nick told us two weeks ago he had a very attractive offer of employment abroad and needed to know whether we would be renewing his contract'.

Last night a potential sponsor for Bailey emerged when Chris Wright, the head of Chrysalis TV and a fanatical sports follower, said he wanted to become involved and help pay for Bailey to continue working with Carr. 'I saw the match on television and when I read the papers this morning I knew I had to do something,' he said. 'I could not believe that such an important decision was taken on the eve of such a big match.'