Tennis / Wimbledon '94: Stich stunned by the subtlety of Shelton: The men's title-winner in 1991 adds to German discomfort as he makes a lacklustre exit on 'the graveyard of champions'

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THE only German high fliers appear to be Lufthansa. Michael Stich has joined Steffi Graf as a first-round loser, a minor upset compared to Tuesday's sensation and in view of Stich's run of disasters in Grand Slam championships.

None the less, it is only the second time that a No 2 seed has fallen in the opening round of the Wimbledon men's singles, Henri Cochet, one of the French Musketeers, having been beaten to the thrust by Britain's Nigel Sharpe in 1931.

Stich, who won the title in 1991, was defeated by Bryan Shelton, a qualifier from Alabama, on Court Two. This patch of the All England Club is known as the graveyard of champions, and Stich, as usual, had the demeanour of his own chief mourner.

Anke Huber, seeded No 12 in the women's singles, was also beaten, but all is not lost for Germany. They are guaranteed at least one player in the third round: the winner of today's opening match on the Centre Court between Boris Becker, the three-times champion, and his compatriot Arne Thoms, a qualifier ranked No 172 in the world.

Becker, the seventh seed, may be fancying his chances now that the emotional turmoil of a projected quarter-final against Stich has been removed. They met at the same stage a year ago, when Becker's five-set victory appeared to drain him of the energy and inspiration required for a successful challenge against Pete Sampras in the semi-finals.

Stich did not endear himself to the spectators on that occasion by walking off without his opponent ('I wanted to leave the court to Boris; he deserved it') and was booed yesterday for a similarly failing to observe Wimbledon etiquette after losing to Shelton.

'Jeez, I can crawl off the court next time,' Stich said. 'If I had behaved in a bad way I could have understood it, but I didn't do anything wrong. You can't expect a player when he loses in three sets, having high expectations, to smile and say, 'Thank you very much, it was a great day'. I think the these people have to really try to understand the game a little more, try to understand the players. If you get booed off every time you walk off when you lose, then I think it's not the right sport for me.'

Crawling off the court could develop into a habit unless Stich's form in the major championships improves. Since hastened off the court after the Becker defeat, he has lost in the first round of the United States Open (to Henrik Holm), in the first round of the Australian Open (to MaliVai Washington) and in the second round of the French Open (to Aaron Krickstein).

During the weeks before Christmas, he was a player inspired on indoor courts in Germany, winning the ATP Tour Championship, carrying the national team to triumph in the Davis Cup final, and narrowly losing to Petr Korda in the Grand Slam Cup final.

A detour to Qatar did little for his prospects in Australia, where he blamed the Grand Slam Cup for sapping his strength, nor did playing in the World Team Championship in Dusseldorf sharpen his game for the French Open. And after losing in the first round in the pre-Wimbledon tournament at Queen's, he accepted dollars 250,000 to play in the Halle tournament, winning the final last Sunday.

'Probably I'm getting old,' he joked (most spectators do not realise a sense of humour lurks beneath the lugubrious exterior). Then he became stern again: 'Probably everybody is writing that I wasn't well prepared, but that's not the truth. I had a great week last week. It was a lot of fun, and I played great tennis. I was looking forward to this tournament, and I played against somebody who just played better on the day. He could have closed his eyes and hit the ball wherever he wanted to hit it.'

This was not the most gracious assessment of Shelton, whose ranking, No 120, belies the predatory nature of his game. The 28-year-old has made life difficult for Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker at Wimbledon in the past, and came close to eliminating Jim Courier, the defending champion, in the first round of the Australian Open.

'I really felt like I could win if I played a good match right after I qualified and found out I played Michael Stich,' the American countered. 'He's kind of negative on the court, and I think that works against him. I think he felt I was playing above myself. Even after he got up a break in the third set, it didn't bother me.'

Andre Agasssi was required to play more than a few solid games on return to salvage his second-round match against Nicolas Pereira, the 23-year- old former world junior champion from Venezuela, ranked No 119. Agassi won, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4, after three hours and 19 minutes.

Having failed to serve out at 5-4 in the fourth set, the Las Vegan was broken for 3-4 in the fifth. He countered immediately, and was assisted in the concluding game when his opponent, who had delivered 28 aces, double-faulted twice, bringing the downside total to 15.

Sampras continued to find the target with his serves, thumping 26 aces past Richey Reneberg, an American compatriot, in winning, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. The defending champion has delivered 51 aces in six sets.

The day after making history by eliminating Graf, the defending champion, Lori McNeil required five match points before advancing to the third round with a 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win against Yone Kamio, a 22-year-old from Yokohama ranked No 113.

'The most difficult thing is when you play different styles,' McNeil said. 'As opposed to Steffi, who hits hard, Kamio takes the pace off the ball and keeps it really low. I knew today was going to be more of a battle, and if I didn't play as well as yesterday I was just going to stay in there and fight.'

Jana Novotna also had to scrap to win her first match at Wimbledon since allowing the title to slip her grasp in last year's final against Graf. Mind you, Novotna's opponent yesterday was Miriam Oremans, the sturdy Dutch player who eliminated Martina Navratilova in the first round of the French Open. Novotna survived, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, though returning Oreman's beefy shots was not ideal for her dodgy arm.

Guy Hodgson, Results, page 43

(Photographs omitted)

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