Britain's latest sensational loser may end up a winner after all

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The Independent Online

Barry Cowan, the 15-minute sensation of Wimbledon 2001, awoke yesterday to face a cavalcade of chequebook-waving agents and sponsors eager to turn his defeat into a lucrative and very British "victory".

The Ford Fiesta driver from Ormskirk, Lancashire, who took two sets off the Number One seed and seven-times champion, Pete Sampras, on Wednesday evening, emerged to find his new status as "plucky loser" par excellence could earn him up to £100,000.

The 26-year-old was understood to have received three offers from non-sporting companies seeking the endorsement of their products – despite losing to Sampras 6-3, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6, 6-3.

The sanguine Lancastrian insisted he was more interested in furthering his tennis career than his bank balance. But others had different ideas.

Calls from journalists to Cowan's agent, Grant Aitken, requesting more information on the humble beginnings of the underdog were told that his life story was available for about £20,000 – a sum rumoured to have been paid by one newspaper. Cowan, who before this week had plied his trade at many unheralded tournaments, said: "I just want to concentrate on improving my ranking – money isn't my only priority."

He was introduced to tennis by his mother, Clare, a teacher-trainer and sometime tennis coach at a club near the family home in Lathom, before being selected to attend the Bisham Abbey sports academy in Buckinghamshire as a tennis trainee.

In 1995 he contracted glandular fever and was forced to take six months off. He said: "That was the lowest point. I thought about throwing it all in and was very down but I decided to stick with it."

But now, with 165 rankings to scale before he can even claim a spot in the first round of ATP tournaments where he would regularly confront the likes of the American superstars Sampras and Andre Agassi, or even the leading Britons Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman, Cowan may none the less have to take up some of the offers coming his way.

His winnings of £12,000 for reaching Wimbledon's second round have been pledged towards a deposit on a flat and, according to experts, his marketable value may be shortlived.

At Cowan's former tennis club of Aughton yesterday, members still marvel at the intensity of parental support he was given. "At weekends you would get both of them here, literally shouting encouragement," said the groundsman John Hardman. "Perhaps it was because they were such enthusiastic players themselves."

The excitement was only quelled by calls to most of its committee members from Mrs Cowan, insisting all inquiries on her son must be referred to an agent. "It would be good, if only for the youngsters, if he remembered us now," said the club secretary, Norman Kendall.

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