Tennis / Wimbledon '94: Bates' success derived from new perspective: Richard Edmondson finds Britain's No 1 a more relaxed figure as he eases his way into the last 16

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The Independent Online
WHEN he opens his bag on the Centre Court today, Jeremy Bates may produce hay fever tablets for the whole crowd. Two years ago, as he had match point for a place in the quarter-finals, a sneeze interrupted Bates's serve and he dribbled out of the Championships. This afternoon, in a Groundhog Day of a contest, he finds himself back in the last 16 and back against the man who beat him in 1992, Guy Forget.

That defeat remains like a limpet in Bates's mind. On Saturday, at match point against Markus Zoecke, he again fluffed his service toss, and acknowledged the irony with a choking pantomime of knocking knees and shivering arms. He later revealed that the sphere in his hand felt more like a toffee apple than a tennis ball. 'It stuck in my hand,' he said. 'I just couldn't resist it (the play- acting). I thought it was quite funny.'

Britain's No 1 is indeed a more relaxed figure these days. Bates, like Kylie Minogue, has experimented with his image down the years, through supine player to ranter on court, but now seems to have found a happy medium, most noticeably, it is said, following the birth of his son, Joshua. Curiously enough, the voices who ascribe Bates's resurgence to fatherhood are the same ones who have pinpointed the distracting arrival of a son as an explanation for Boris Becker's slide from the pinnacle. The German, incidentally, looked as though his mind was travelling down corridors other than the aisles at Mothercare on Saturday as he disposed of Argentina's Javier Frana on Court One.

Like Becker, Bates believes he now has a better perspective on life. He also believes he is a better player. 'This is a rough business and you have to be absolutely ruthless if you want to do well,' he said. 'But eventually it dawns on you that there are other dimensions and tennis doesn't seem as major any more. Tennis is not the priority in my life any more and that has made me a better player.'

Britain's No 1 has not been asked the most demanding of questions in the Championships yet (a Zoecke has been borne to him in every round), and while a defenceless form has been behind the shower-curtain as Bates has approached thus far, he now faces much sterner stuff in Forget.

Nine months after knee surgery which prompted thoughts that his racket might be on its way up to the loft, the Frenchman has regained his very best form. He has the power of the men Bates has faced to this point, and he also possesses guile and a left-hander's peculiarity. On Saturday, Bates prepared for the angles and difficult options Forget will present by practising with another left- hander, his countryman Barry Cowan.

The support for Bates is huge. In the whitewashed corridors fringing the Centre Court on Saturday, the crocodiles were long and fidgety (much the same tableau as at a football match without the squalid underfoot conditions) as spectators waited for a break in play. It was possible to feel sorry for Zoecke as Bates was thunderously received even when he managed to put one foot in front of another successfully on the way back from the change-over.

Yet it must be remembered that our hero, too, has to play the role of moustache-twiddler as he travels to other ports on the circuit. 'I travel 30 weeks of the year and I get abused 29 of them so today was really nice,' he said.

While Bates used to find this partisanship oppressive, he now feeds off it. He no longer has the nerves of a young standard- bearer going into battle because, at the age of 32, he knows he will soon be laying down his arms. The following has been most notable at Bates's match points, when roars of expectation have subsided into an unnatural stillness. 'When you hear the silence, you realise how much it means to everyone else.'

Jeremy Bates will hope for one more hush today and also hope that the hankies stay in pockets. As two years ago showed, pollen counts at Wimbledon.

----------------------------------------------------------------- BATES v FORGET ----------------------------------------------------------------- HEAD-TO-HEAD 1988 Wembley (carpet) Bates bt Forget 5-7 6-3 11-9 1990 Davis Cup: Queen's Club (grass) Forget bt Bates 2-6 7-6 6-4 6-1 1992 Davis Cup: Bayonne (carpet) Forget bt Bates 6-2 6-4 1992 Wimbledon (grass) Forget bt Bates 6-7 6-4 3-6 7-6 6-3 -----------------------------------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------------- HOW BATES AND FORGET MATCH UP ----------------------------------------------------------------- BATES FORGET 32 Age 29 5ft 11in Height 6ft 3in 11st 6lb Weight 12st 9lb Solihull Born Casablanca Leatherhead Lives Neuchatel (Swit) Right-handed Plays Left-handed 85 Ranking 1,130* 63 (March, 1988) Highest 4 (March, 1991) pounds 670,000 Prize-money pounds 2.7m 1 Career titles 10 4th rd (1992, 1994) Best Wimbledon Quarter-finals (1991, 1992) (1982-94) W-12 L-12 Wimbledon record (1983-88; 90-92; 94) W-19 L-9 W-42 L-44 Career grass W/L W-38 L-25 * (injury-affected) -----------------------------------------------------------------

ROUTE TO THE LAST 16: Bates: 1st round bt G Pozzi (It) 7-5 6-4 6-1; 2nd round bt J Renzenbrink (Ger) 6-2 7-6 6-4; 3rd round bt M Zoecke (Ger) 6-4 6-4 3-6 6-3.

Forget: 1st round bt D Flach (US) 6-1 6-2 6-2; 2nd round bt J Courier (US) 3-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4; 3rd round bt J Hlasek (Switz) 6-4 6-4 7-6. -----------------------------------------------------------------