Tennis / Wimbledon '94: Memories of Forget fuel Briton's will: John Roberts on the singles encounters to savour on the first day of week two at the All England Club

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The Independent Online
THE deja vu is such that your correspondent makes no apology for recycling a line from two years ago: though the Centre Court scoreboard will say Forget Bates, we must regard it as a label rather than a directive.

Should our Jeremy once again play his way to match point against the gallant Frenchman, Guy Forget, we trust that any other similarity to this day in 1992 will immediately cease: no second thoughts, no sneezes in the crowd.

Whatever it takes - a steady nerve, a stiff upper lip, a solid serve, a bold return, a brilliant shot from the middle of the strings, or a fluke off the frame - the nation would appreciate the novelty of one of their own advancing to the quarter-finals; someone who, at the very least, could walk into the Last 8 Club without mumbling, 'Won the mixed doubles in '87.'

Since their previous Wimbledon encounter, Bates, the oldest competitor in the men's singles draw at 32, has embellished his career by finally winning a title, albeit in South Korea. His 29-year-old opponent is in the process of salvaging his career after being close to retirement following knee surgery.

It is one of those occasions when rank counts for less than finesse, fitness, and determination. Bates, No 85 in the world, has distinguished himself against celebrities from time to time (Boris Becker, Michael Chang, John McEnroe, Yannick Noah). Forget, a left- hander with a potent serve who rose to No 4 in 1991, is listed as No 1,130 on the computer but is campaigning as a top-30 contender by virtue of a protected ranking rule regarding long-term injuries.

The Frenchman considers that both he and Bates have reached the point where the expectations of others matters less. But Forget, a member of the French Davis Cup team who were consumed by national fervour after defeating the United States in the 1991 final, may be underestimating the situation with regard to his opponent. Bates is only too aware that millions, many of whom rarely give tennis a thought, are willing him to win. Moreover, he knows that he has the capability. Smile though he may, Britain expects.

One hopes that Forget is correct in another assumption. 'A lot of times you play a local player in places and people are arrogant and do things to try to make you play bad,' he said, 'but I've never felt that was the case here. It's not the mentality of the British people. I don't like it when I play in France and people don't support in a fair way. I don't feel comfortable. In England, crowds have been very good to me. They are cheering for Jeremy, which is normal, but I never feel hostililty towards me.'

So the game-plan is for Bates to make Forget dreadfully uncomfortable while everybody else behaves impeccably.

In anticipation of this treat there are intruiging supporting acts for our amusement, on the Centre Court and elsewhere in the grounds. If the second week of the Championships follows the pattern of the first, catch them while you can.

Andre Agassi's performances have afforded a delightful combination of crowd-pleasing personality and shot-making excellence, the 12th seed's matches comprising a sufficient variety of strokes to paint pictures rather than punch holes though the canvas.

Whether this will continue when Agassi confronts Todd Martin, a giant American compatriot who serves well, volleys well and returns well, is another matter. The sixth seed is a solid citizen whose intonation bears a trace of Clint Eastwood but who appears far too much of a Clean Harry ever to ask a punk to make his day.

They each have won two of their previous matches, all played on concrete courts, which are medium- paced compared with the lawns, which may slightly favour Martin. If Agassi wins this one, he will start fancying his chances to repeat his 1992 triumph, particularly as the quarter-final brings Wayne Ferreira or Jonas Bjorkman, two of the unseeded warriors.

Martin, it is confirmed, has been extracated from the superglue which detained a number of players on Court One last week, most memorably Sergi Bruguera. The French Open champion has been persuaded to venture there again, this time in the company of Chang, a devout baseliner who also appears to have been kidded into thinking that the grass has been removed this year. The difference is that Bruguera has started to volley like Stefan Edberg (circa 1990).

Provided Bruguera and Chang finish in time, Martina Navratilova will face her most difficult match so far against Helena Sukova, a familiar foe. The Martina Fan Club inundated the All England Club with letters pleading that the nine-times champion be kept on the Centre Court, but you can't win them all.

Scheduled to bring play to a close on Court One is a potential classic between Boris Becker, a three-times champion, and Andrei Medvedev, the 19-year-old Ukrainian who has still to flourish on the faster surfaces.

Pete Sampras finds himself back on Court Two, the champions' graveyard, with Daniel Vacek an opponent only too willing to do the spadework. Between them they have served 124 aces (63 to Vacek). Sampras was asked how he would alert linesmen to the perils of the impending bombardment. 'Have your eyes open, I guess.'

The same message should be printed large on the front of Goran Ivanisevic's shirt. The runner-up to Agassi two years ago allowed Amos Mansdorf only six points off his serve on Saturday, all in the second of the three sets. And one was a double-fault.

Ivanisevic hit 25 aces and 24 other unreturnable serves. He has yet to break a racket, and has only twice spoken to an umpire, Britain's Gerry Armstrong, on both occasions in a temperate manner. The man is dangerous. Whisper it, but if he beats Alexander Volkov he could be next in line for Bates.

(Photograph omitted)