Tennis: Wimbledon - Smith enjoys finest hour

British No 2 Henman forced into a five-set struggle for survival as Novak battles back from two sets to love down
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YOU JUST cannot trust our tennis players these days. At one time British women raced each other to be the first in Wimbledon's "beaten" column but yesterday the dubious honour fell to Argentina's Paola Suarez, who rocketed out of SW19 in 63 minutes.

Ten home players took to the courts yesterday and unlike the dark ages of the Eighties it was not the massacre of the innocents. Sam Smith, the British women's No 1, secured what she described as the finest win of her career; Louise Latimer beat Germany's Jana Kandarr 6-4, 6-1; and Karen Cross prevailed in a domestic tiff with Jo Ward.

Essex's Smith, at 94 in the highest position she has ever reached, was cruising along at 6-3, 3-0 against the world No 53, Anne-Gaelle Sidot, when the enormity of what she was doing struck her. "I have never won a match at Wimbledon," she said, "and it seemed too easy. I got a bit tight, nervous."

The second set was lost but she recovered her nerve to prevail 6-3, 4- 6, 6-2. "I couldn't have done that 12 months ago," she said. "I have told myself that I can be a top 50 player. It's taking time but I know I can get there."

Julie Pullin, who got a wild card into the tournament, also gave a hint of a shock when she took the second set 6-1 against the world No 99, Japan's Nana Miyagi, but surrendered the decider 6-2. "I had a feeling that she would go up a level in the third set," she said. "And she did. I was hoping to do the same but it went the other way."

When Ward heard she was playing at Wimbledon last week she sought out her fellow Briton. "Who have I got?" Cross asked when she was told she had a terrible draw. "Martina Hingis? Steffi Graf?" Cross had the last laugh yesterday, however, winning their match 6-3, 6-4.

Among the men, the most disappointing defeat was that of Worthing's Martin Lee. He had match point in the third set tie-break against Italy's Daniele Bracciali but succumbed 4-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Mark Petchey also promised more than he could deliver against the world No 26, Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson, after he had arrested a dreadful start. He took the second set only to lose 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 and then contemplated retirement.

Petchey, 27, reached the world's top 100 in 1994 but has since slipped to 198 and wonders whether he has the drive to continue. "I haven't made a final decision," he said. "I will talk it over with my coach, Nigel Sears, over the next couple of weeks." The alternatives he is considering are media work, coaching or marketing for the Lawn Tennis Association.

Such were the crowds around Court 13 Petchey was late for his noon appointment and he began pretty sluggishly, too. Within 12 minutes he was 4-0 down and as he was making mistakes all round the court it was hardly a surprise when he lost the first set in 25 minutes.

More of a shock was his response. Where he could barely get a shot in before, his radar improved and he routed Gustafsson 6-1 in the second set, also in 25 minutes. Sadly it would prove to be the high-water mark.