Tennis / Wimbledon '94: Stylish Wilkinson pulls rank on Costa: No 3 reaches last 32 for the second year running but Bailey fails to repeat last year's heroics

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CHRIS Wilkinson was unaware of his opponent's rank yesterday, which was probably just as well. The British No 3 has been playing so badly recently he has lost sleep over it, so knowing he was meeting the 17th-best player in the world would probably have had him climbing the bedroom walls in search of rest.

Ignorance, in this case, proved to be the kiss of life to Wilkinson's season, however, as the man who pre-Wimbledon had not won a match on the ATP Tour since December defeated Spain's Carlos Costa in straight sets to reach the third round for the second year running. He is only one of two British survivors, the other being Jeremy Bates who plays today.

Wilkinson got into the last 32 in some style. He has been struggling with tendinitis and a tennis inferiority complex but he swept aside Costa, who would have been seeded but for his preference for slower clay, like a leaf on the court. He was 3-0 up within a matter of minutes and was slowing to smell the flowers on the way when he won 6-1, 6-4, 6-1.

'Even a couple of games away I was confident of winning,' he said, 'so I thought to myself whatever happens now I want to enjoy it. I made sure I did.' A courtside photographer was pretty sure, too, and shouted out a request for a post-victory gesture with the match still in progress. 'I thought 'Hang On. Do you want to pull up a chair and have a cup of tea too'?'

He duly obliged for the snappers, though, and even threw in a Roger Milla-like World Cup wiggle as an extra. Wilkinson had a trial with his local club, Southampton, as a youth and what was football's loss has been tennis's gain.

This upbeat mood has been a rarity for the 24-year-old whose form has slumped so badly he has gone from 114 to 201 in the rankings in nine months. In desperation he played in a money tournament at Southsea last week and, in addition to picking up a winner's cheque for pounds 250, collected a timely massage to his ego.

Even so, he admitted to waking up yesterday with tennis low down on his preferred menu for the day and it was only the crowd's response that woke him up. 'They gave me the first set,' he said. 'I felt so tired and not motivated but, with a big crowd behind me, it lifted me. I was off and I didn't really look back.'

Chris Bailey will look back on yesterday with some frustration but at least one person sighed with relief when he lost in the first round: his postman. Last year the British No 4's blond good looks were beamed round the nation via the television and the female half of it, at least, held its breath. From a position of near anonymity before the championships he was suddenly a tennis pin-up.

Bailey's mail was inundated with proposals - some of them not indecent - but this time the Norwich GPO has no need to draft in reinforcements. His exposure in the country's sitting rooms was restricted to one match.

Still he caused a stir of sorts even if it was by default. Midway through his 3-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-3 defeat by Javier Frana the Argentine, provoked by the rampant jingoism of the crowd, uttered a four-letter word. Bailey, not fluent in Spanish, was blissfully unaware of the curse, as indeed Frana claimed to be when he appeared before the Press. 'I would not swear at an opponent,' he said with some indignation. 'Particularly one I respect like him. If I said anything at all it was aimed at myself.'

This has shades of last year's outburst by Pete Sampras, who was spared another meeting with Andrew Foster - his opponent when he lost his cool - when the Briton went down to the American Chuck Adams; down in flames, in fact, going out 6-2, 6-4, 7-6.

Britain's interest in the women's singles came to a disappointing conclusion and the best you can say is that the end was swift. Shirli-Ann Siddall's second-round match lasted just 50 minutes before she was forcibly removed 6-2, 6-0 by the Japanese sixth seed, Kimiko Date.

In comparison, Exeter's Karen Cross clung like a limpet to her first-round place against Jolene Watanabe. In comparison. She went down 6-0, 6-1 in 53 minutes, gaining her only game when the American double-faulted twice.

(Photograph omitted)

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