Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Uncompromising Rafter makes his point

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PAT RAFTER ought to be good on grass, but you would be forgiven for wondering why, given his record. A serve and volleyer, he has charged the net at Wimbledon for six years and carried on going, having not progressed beyond the fourth round despite being seeded in the last three.

Maybe this time will be different, because the Australian No 2 seed was resolutely uncompromising in disposing of Cristiano Caratti, an Italian whose affinity to grass courts is so strong he had never played on the surface before. Okay, he was not the hardest opponent, but you cannot argue with 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

"It's good to get the the first one, because it's always a bit tough," Rafter, the winner of the last two US Opens, said. "You're never sure what to expect out there."

Rafter will now meet Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, a 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 winner against Grant Stafford yesterday, who also happens to be his doubles partner. "We know each other's games very well and it will just be a matter of who plays better on the day." How would the doubles go today? "We'll be hitting each other on the back of the head."

Rafter believes the conditions are different from normal because the lack of rain has given them the characteristics of a hard court, which will play into his hands. "The court is hard and bouncy, but the movement is not so great," he said. "The English weather has been good to us. If it stays this way, the courts will get better and better."

All of which points to a Rafter run that is more pertinent to his talent and could push him to the No 1 position in the rankings. "Jonas is a tough match," he said. "If I get past him I might think about it. It's a very open draw and I haven't had that great success here yet."

Lleyton Hewitt, the 18-year-old Australian who reached the semi-finals at Queen's and the quarter-finals of the Nottingham Open, continued his grand British tour with a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 win over Uruguay's Marcelo Filippini. His time at Wimbledon so far has not been without cost, however.

On Sunday Hewitt, who is still somewhat open mouthed at rubbing shoulders with Sampras, Becker and Co, had the choice of watching his fellow-countrymen win the cricket World Cup or practise with a hero. "I couldn't say no to hitting with Andre Agassi," he said somewhat shamefacedly.

"At 18 you'd be wanting to get Rafter, Sampras or Agassi's autograph and I'm out there practising and competing against them." You suspect he fears the pinch that will wake him from his dream.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the third seed, appeared to be in a precarious position when he resumed his match on Court No 1 with Magnus Larsson at 5-5 in the deciding set. Five minutes and 10 points later the Russian was securely in the second round after a 6- 7, 7-5, 7-6, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

Richard Krajicek, the 1996 champion and fifth seed, crashed through 6- 2, 6-3, 6-1 against Christian Ruud; Goran Ivanisevic, the eternal bridesmaid, crushed Mikael Tillstrom 6-4, 6-3, 6-4, and the eighth-seeded Todd Martin had to come from two sets down to defeat Hendrik Dreekmann 6-7, 6-7, 6- 3, 6-2, 6-4.

Krajicek, whose "lazy fat pigs" description of the women players has made him a chauvinist legend, was given an invitation to add his 10 guilders- worth on the issue of equal prize money. Did he want to comment? "No," he replied, smiling ruefully.

That made it an accident-free day for the men's elite, although Tommy Haas, the 14th seed, was hauled off Court No 3 with his match against Peter Wessels balanced at two sets all.