Often it has seemed that the best way of getting Brits through at Wimbledon is to make them play each other. Lancashire's Barry Cowan took advantage yesterday of the further incentive of a second-round meeting with Pete Sampras by winning a genuine local derby against Cheshire's Mark Hilton 6-3, 6-2, 7-6.
The sub-plot was a victory for a committed Liverpool fan, who listened to some apparently inspirational Mersey music on his Walkman between sets, over a Manchester United follower.
Cowan, older by six years and taller by seven inches, served well in taking the first two sets and dominated the tie-break (7-2) in the third. Cheerleader-in-chief when selected in Britain's Davis Cup squad for the humiliation by Ecuador at Wimbledon last summer, he will gain further experience of the show-courts against the master tomorrow.
"Last year was my best year by far and this year's been a bit slow," he said. "Competing in the Olympics was the previous highlight of my career and this is the sort of thing you dream of as a kid. I'll give my best and let's see what happens. I've been trying to concentrate on this match today because, if I'd let my mind drift, I'd have come a cropper. I think it'll be a very special moment for me against the best grass-court player ever."
Although happy to talk about splitting with his coach Dave Sammels, after a first-round defeat in the Stella Artois tournament at Queen's, which he admitted was "pretty horrible", Cowan was a little more coy about what was in his headphones: "I can't really disclose what I was listening to although I think, at the start of the third, it didn't work."
Whatever Millwall supporter Martin Lee has been listening to ("Let 'em all come down to the Den"?) had a similarly uplifting effect in a fine victory over the veteran Italian Gianluca Pozzi, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1. Calmer of temperament now, the 23-year-old Lee is ranked third in Britain. Having lost to Greg Rusedski, one of the big two, in straight sets at Nottingham last week, he now gets a shot at Tim Henman.
Luke Milligan, a qualifier, had no joy against the Spanish clay-court specialist Juan Carlos Ferrero, demoted from fourth in the rankings to eighth seed, but still much too good in winning 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.
Although the British women, wild cards all, found life predictably difficult against much higher ranked opponents, there were some encouraging performances and a couple of outstanding ones. Leading the way was Devon's Karen Cross, the 27-year-old who retired after the national championships last November, then entered Wimbledon on a whim. After coming through five qualifying matches at Chiswick and Roehampton, she reached the second round by defeating Yvette Basting of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-4, amid much screaming on and off court. "I won three matches last week in the heat and that helped me," said Cross. "But I really wasn't expecting to get this far."
Julie Pullin should have joined her, passing up two match points at 5-4 in the second set before allowing Germany's Marlene Weingartner to eclipse her 3-6, 7-6, 6-4. It was, nevertheless, a brave effort against a player ranked 41st in the world, 145 places above the British No 3. Louise Latimer, the national No 1, was, not surprisingly, out-gunned by the vastly experienced Lisa Raymond of the United States, the 28th seed, 6-3, 6-0 and Lucie Ahl (ambition: to be a Radio 1 DJ) played Nicey to Emmanuelle Gaglairdi's Smashy in going down 6-4, 6-1.Reuse content