Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Courier shows fighting spirit

JIM COURIER, the 28-year-old bane of British tennis, secured a fourth-round meeting with Tim Henman yesterday by recovering from a match point down in the fourth set against Sjeng Schalken, of the Netherlands, to win a 67-match thriller, 7-6, 3-6, 3-6, 7-5, 13-11. He was later taken to hospital suffering from dehydration.

Courier, the world No 61 who has only once progressed beyond the third round at the All England Club (he was the runner-up in 1993 to Pete Sampras), almost single-handedly led the United States to victory in the Davis Cup match against Britain in Birmingham earlier this year, securing wins over both Henman and Greg Rusedski on the way. The manner of his win yesterday, which took four hours and 25 minutes, showed that he is never more dangerous an opponent than when the odds are stacked against him.

The defining moment against Schalken, who is ranked 11 places higher in the world, came in the fourth set, with Courier facing match point against him. Whether there is something in his genetic make-up that only triggers determination when faced with defeat, or whether he simply has a penchant for five-set contests, the American produced a ripping forehand to pull himself back into the game, which he then took. He went on to break his opponent in the next game and won the set.

For much of the match up until then, Courier had played poorly, and even after levelling the sets at two apiece, he seemed as if he wanted to prolong the fight. Serving 9-8 ahead in the final set, a missed volley and a lob that sailed long evened the scores again.

Courier then broke, but was immediately broken back to make it 10-10. It moved to 11-11 with serve and then the American broke again to take what he knew was the vital game. He threw his arms up in delight and when he moved to serve in the 24th game, there was, almost for the first time, a hunger to wrap things up. He won the game to love. Watching a video of the encounter will do nothing for Henman's nerves.

Courier did not attend a post-match press conference because of dehydration and the effects of a heavy cold. The sight of him being helped into a people carrier with ice-packs on his legs should not be taken as an indication that he will put up an invalid performance against Henman. He thrives on adversity, after all.

Another winner yesterday was the world No 11 and the No 7 seed here, Mark Philippoussis of Australia, who won in straight sets against Francisco Clavet of Spain, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. "Winning Wimbledon is something that I've always dreamed of since I was a little kid," he said afterwards. "It seems so much more prestigious than all the other tournaments." On his prospects in the next eight days, he added: "Every match I've played I've just concentrated on what I've had to do. Every match I'm getting more and more used to the grass. I'm looking at one match at a time."