Meanwhile out on court number 17...

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The Independent Online

Another triumph for the human spirit occurred on the eBay internet auction site yesterday when a pair of top-of-the-range tickets for the men's final here was on offer for £3,500. Oh frailty, thy name is debenture holder.

For the more cost-conscious, ground passes, the right to roam the leafy precincts outside the main amphitheatres, were available at £150 a pair, compared to a face value of £16 each.

The electronic route, though, is the easy one and those who want the genuine SW19 experience involve a different road, or pavement at least, as well as a sleeping bag and a degree of patience. At 10.30am yesterday morning, the great unwashed poured through the entrances to secure the choicest of vantage points.

Those who stormed gate three would have first gone past the No 17 court and most people did. For, on the order of play, this was the graveyard of consequence, the venue of the unknown player, a place only a mother could love.

First up in the sumptuous smorgasbord was a men's singles match between Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Germany's Lars Burgsmüller, who are travelling in different directions in this sport.

Berdych, who is 19 and takes advantage of it by wearing a cheeky knot of hair through the back of his cap, slipped into the men's top 50 last year. He has beaten Roger Federer.

Burgsmüller, who reaches the tennis tartan slippers and cocoa age of 30 in December, was drummed out of the leading 100 players last year. He has beaten little recently, other than eggs.

Well, at least he had not until coming up against the French Open runner-up and No 16 seed Mariano Puerta in the first round. Somehow he won in straight sets. The German should not have been here at all yesterday, a fact he appeared to acknowledge.

Burgsmüller's countryman Michael Stich came to support for a while and we knew then, definitely, that the greatest tennis talent around was in the crowd. But it was not to be. Burgsmüller was never in it as Berdych powered to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 victory and guaranteed take-home pay of just over £25,000.

It was a solemn occasion, a rare piece of levity at the coldest ticket in town being provided by Thomas, Andreas and Christian, three 19-year-old Germans from the town of Heinsberg near the Dutch border. The recent recipients of their diplomas, they would not have stood out in what we can call a crowd had it not been for head-dress that was Teutonic in colour if not entirely in style. Each of them wore a red, yellow and black Dr Seuss Cat in the Hat stovepipe, a uniquely colourful confection at the gathering.

The hats proved to be evidence that exploitation is not all on the net. "We bought them on eBay," Thomas said. "They were four euros each. We bought flags too, but we had to leave them at the entrance because they said they were too big.

"Right from the beginning today Lars was not strong enough," he admitted, "but that does not matter. We got our photograph made with Boris Becker."

As the skin blackened gently on the spectators' heads, gentle tones wafted over from the Gustavo Marques Quintet at the bandstand. There was another, less pleasing noise. Court No 17 is one of four strips forming a thin paste sandwiched between the mighty citadels of Centre and No 1 courts. It sounded as though they were having a good party next door.

Two more gladiators appeared in the shape of Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand and America's Shenay Perry, which, once again, was not a contest in mind as the campers hunkered down overnight.

Tammy was an old friend, a player your correspondent first witnessed in the 1995 junior semi-finals when she beat Anna Kournikova, the day the cameras came. Tanasugarn, at least, was allowed to take Thailand's flag into the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Perry was one of the crocodiles thrown the chicken carcass of a British wild card in the first round, the conqueror of Sarah Borwell. She, like all of us, must have been startled by umpire Martin Oosthuysen's inability to pronounce the word "15". You never know how accustomed you have become to the scoring system in tennis until someone says "13-love" after the first point has been played.

Tammy had reached the fourth round here for the sixth time in the last seven years last year, but she too appears to be going the Burgsmüller way, possibly the title of Robert Ludlum's next novel.

Perry went through 7-6, 6-2 and, for one, would not mind a return to the sepulchre of No 17. "It was a nice atmosphere, a quiet atmosphere but I like it that way," the 20-year-old said. "If I got to a big court I could get kinda nervous."

With the singles appetite sated there came the digestif of a doubles, the collision between Ana Ivanovic of Serbia and Slovakia's Tina Krizan and the Italian pairing of Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone. The last-named, and forgiveness is required here, was reminiscent in appearance and movement of Martina Navratilova. Ivanovic and Krizan were more identifiable with Martina's results and won 6-2, 6-4.

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