Delgado exits after earning Agassi's respect

British wild card fails to stretch American former champion while Parmar fades after taking first set against Kafelnikov
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The Independent Online

Andre Agassi, although in denial still about Bill Clinton's grim reaper impersonation beside his court at the French Open, made it clear yesterday that he is fully aware of the likelihood of upsets at major tournaments. "I didn't need to see Pete [Sampras] struggle out there [against Barry Cowan] to have respect for someone in the second round of Wimbledon," Agassi said, having dispatched Jamie Delgado, another British wild card, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.

"Regardless who you're playing," Agassi added, "you're playing the best players in the world, and you're playing on a surface that is in many cases the ultimate equaliser." Cowan, a 26-year-old Liverpool fan from Southport, famously managed to equalise against Sampras, two sets apiece, on No 1 Court on Wednesday night, only for the seven-times champion to win in extra time. The closest Delgado came to testing Agassi on the Centre Court was in creating a break point in the third game, which the Las Vegan blew away with an ace.

Delgado, a 24-year-old from Birmingham placed No 187 in the tournament entry system, had earned the right to meet Agassi, the No 2 seed, by defeating Andrei Medvedev, Kiev's finest, in straight sets in the opening round. While doing his best to build on that, Delgado was out-played by the sport's greatest returner of serve.

The match lasted 88 minutes, Delgado saving four match points on his own serve at 5-2, his resistance breaking as the 1992 champion served the match out, hitting a smash on his fifth match point.

"I was impressed with his attitude towards the match," Delgado said. "I'm ranked a lot lower than him, but he was still fighting for every point and didn't look like he took anything for granted. He was concentrating very hard and was there to beat me as comfortably as he could."

Arvind Parmar, the 23-year-old wild card from Hitchin who overcame cramp and the Brazilian Andre Sa in winning his opening match, 8-6 in the fifth set, could not have made a more encouraging start against Yevgeny Kafelnikov on No 2 Court. He broke in the opening game and did not lose his composure after the Russian No 7 seed levelled at 4-4. Parmar went on to win a first set tie-break, 7-5.

Kafelnikov eventually prevailed, 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1, after an hour and 51 minutes, his confidence growing as he realised that his opponent was not prepared to trouble him with volleys.

"When you're playing on the grass, you expect an aggressive style of play from your opponent," Kafelnikov said. "By deciding basically to serve and stay back, to construct the point from the baseline, he got me off balance a bit. That's why the first set was quite tight. But then I adjusted my game to that style of play. From that point on there was no trouble."

Parmar acknowledged that he needed to work on his volleying. "If I feel I'm hitting the ball well, I'm returning well, then the rest of my game comes together quite nicely," he said. "I need to be at the net a little bit more, but I've got pretty good ground-strokes and I like to use those to get to the net. Every shot can be improved. My movement around the net could be a little bit better."

Kafelnikov, having advanced to the third round, began talking up his prospects of success like an old soldier. "I see big opportunity for myself," he said. "My career is fading away from me. I'm 27 years old. It's about time for me to make a big statement in this tournament."

Britain, meanwhile, turns its attention back to the Big Two, Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, both of whom are due in third-round action on the Centre Court today. The unseeded Rusedski opens the proceedings against Juan Carlos Ferrerro, the No 8 seed from Spain, whose decision to make his first visit to the Wimbledon lawns has allowed a wider audience to appreciate his flowing, ground-stoke style. Henman, the sixth seed, is scheduled to conclude the day's play on the great stage with a match against Sjeng Schalken.

Cowan is still around, giving a stream of media interviews in between practising for doubles matches. Roger Taylor, Britain's Davis Cup captain, was so impressed with his performance against Sampras that he has marked him out as a contender for a place in the squad to travel to Ecuador for the World Group qualifying round next September.

"Someone's got to come up with a good result to better that one," Taylor said. "Barry's in the group of people who are up for selection. He's definitely pushed himself up near the top of the queue."

Taylor does not minimise the challenge Cowan faces: "He's got to get back to reality after this tournament. He's going to go back on the Challenger circuit, where there are not any big crowds, where he isn't well known, and he's fighting to get his ranking up from 265 to get in the main tournaments.

"This is crucial. It could be a great period for him if he can take the confidence and belief in himself from this match and start winning straight away. I've always said the benchmark for any British player is 100 in the world." Emphasising that Cowan is "a down-to-earth, well-balanced sort of bloke" Taylor said that his performance against Sampras "captivated the whole country and may inspire a lot of people to play tennis." If so, he would be a winner.