Lee falls to junior with touch of Laver

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The Independent Online

Bolton Arena, in common with Telford Racquets Centre, the previous home of the National Championships, has a walkway above the courts. A colleague used to call the one in Telford "the bridge of sighs", in honour of the promenading, head-shaking Lawn Tennis Association officials and coaches. Bolton appears to have adopted the tradition.

The sighs yesterday, expressions of frustration and elation in equal measure, accompanied the match of the day between two left-handers, Martin Lee, the British No 3, a member of the Davis Cup squad and top seed in the men's singles, and Alex Bogdanovic, the British No 22, a junior ranked 951 places below his opponent at No 1068 in the ATP entry system. Bogdanovic won, 7-5, 6-0, to advance to the quarter-finals.

Disappointment at Lee's inability to impose himself on the 17-year-old Bogdanovic at any time during the match was counterbalanced by the joy of Bogdanovic's confident stroke-making, particularly his impressive one-handed backhand. The shot drew comparison with masters of the art. It reminded his coach, the Argentinian Tito Vasquez, of Guillermo Vilas. And Roger Taylor, Britain's Davis Cup captain, went so far as to mention it in the same breath as Rod Laver.

"The kid has certainly got something," said Taylor, himself a left-hander. "You look at the backhand and you suddenly realise, it's a Rod Laver backhand. The way he drops his shoulder and hits through the ball, it's just like Laver." There is no higher praise.

Bogdanovic, from Middlesex, reached the boys' singles semi-finals in the junior tournament at the US Open in September. Born in the former Yugoslavia, he was aged eight when his parents moved to Britain, and he picked up a racquet for the first time when he was nine. He is a member of the LTA intermediate squad based in Sutton.

It should be emphasised that Lee played as poorly as Bogdanovic played well. The 23-year-old from Worthing was unable to exert any pressure with his serve, particularly the second delivery, and his errors increased as the match progressed. He double-faulted to lose the opening set.

Bogdanovic wrapped up the second set in 19 minutes. The only thing Lee held was his temper; he admitted later that a year ago he probably would have littered the court with broken racquets. Then again, at last year's Nationals in Telford, Lee defeated Bogdanovic in the first round, 6-4, 6-2.

However, Lee's season has been his most encouraging since he reigned as the world's No 1 junior, and he hopes to end the year in the ATP top 100 by playing four Challenger tournaments in the weeks ahead.

"I've got to give Alex credit," Lee said. "He played very well. After the fourth game I felt I was struggling. I just couldn't put it together today. I've spoken to my coach [Dave Sammel] for an hour, and I've learnt a big thing today. I'm not going to say what it is, but if I'd gone on to win the tournament, I wouldn't have learnt it. It needed something like this to make it sink in."

In today's quarter-finals, Bogdanovic plays James Nelson, from Newcastle, who won the boys' doubles championship in partnership at the 2000 US Open with Lee Childs. Childs, the defending champion, plays Jamie Delgado, the 1999 champion.

Bogdanovic also learned something important prior to this season's Wimbledon, when he was feeling unwell and his results suffered accordingly. Vasquez was perplexed until he he discovered that the teenager had been taking antibiotics.

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