Tennis: Wimbledon 99 - Wilkinson's fall sets the trend

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The Independent Online
THE NORMAL word that follows the name Chris Wilkinson in headlines at Wimbledon is "shock" and yesterday was no different. Except the British No 3 filled the role of the victim on day two instead of the unexpected hero.

True, his opponent was Gustavo Kuerten, the seventh best tennis player in the world and the 11th seed, but those figures hide an aversion to grass that makes a rabid hay fever sufferer seem besotted by comparison. In short, the Brazilian had never won on the stuff.

So to record a straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, victory over Wilkinson, whose heartbeat skips and whose play improves beyond recognition when he walks through the All England Club gates, was a surprise that would have shaken the place had it not just watched the downfall of Martina Hingis.

Wilkinson has reached the third round four times but he hardly ever looked likely to get beyond Kuerten. When he lost his serve for the first time, in the seventh game, he had frequent opportunities to hit volleyed winners but was too shallow with his shots. It summed up a tentative performance.

Wilkinson's demise was indicative of a disappointing day for Britain, which had six players on court yesterday and finished with six losers. Only Martin Lee and Miles MacLagan took their opponents the distance and were beaten, respectively, by Guillermo Canas and someone by the name of Boris Becker.

Lee won the first set and averted what appeared to be an Argentinian tide against him by taking the fourth but lost his serve early in the decider and succumbed 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 1-6, 9-7 in a titanic match that finished with the 21-year-old Londoner limping round Court 13 with a thigh injury after he had earlier had a match point.

Tom Spinks lost 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-2 to Switzerland's Lorenzo Manta, although as he was the lowest ranked man in the tournament, 597th, the length of the match, 2hr 42min, vindicated the All England Club's decision to give him a wild card. The 23-year-old British No 13 from Norwich got an entry to the tournament for the first time after Patrice Hagelauer, the LTA's performance director, had intervened on his behalf because of his prowess on grass. "For Wimbledon you have to think about British players who has a chance on the surface," Hagelauer said.

That was endorsed by a first set that was furious blur of serves and volleys. Manta went 5-2 ahead in the tiebreak but Spinks, whose highest ranking of 452 was attained two years ago, won five points in succession to take the first set.

If Spinks could have maintained his cool in the shoot-out for the next two sets, the unlikeliest British winner of the lot would have been through. Instead he lost both tie-breaks and the end came quickly.

Not as quickly as the two British women on court, though. Abigail Tordoff, the 19-year-old British No 8 from Kent, lasted just 55 minutes, going down 6-0, 6-2 to Elena Wagner, the world No 82 from Germany, while Lorna Woodroffe lost 6-3, 6-2 to Slovakia's Karina Habsudova in an identical time.