As if the pressure of being Britain's best tennis prospect since the arrival of Tim Henman was not enough, Andrew Murray was told yesterday that he could be "an even bigger star than Wayne Rooney".
The comparison was made not by a media commentator or tennis fan desperate for British success, but by the Lawn Tennis Association's head of men's training, Mark Petchey, who is guiding the 18-year-old Scot through his first senior Wimbledon. After his impressive straight-sets victory over George Bastl in the first round, Murray today faces the Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek.
"Yes, he can be as good as Wayne Rooney," Petchey said when asked about the future impact Murray might have. "Maybe even a bigger star than Wayne Rooney. England might not win the World Cup, but if Andy wins here it's going to be even bigger. He could be the biggest sports star in the country."
Petchey, who stepped into the breach when Murray parted company with his coach, Pato Alvarez, earlier this year, says the 18-year-old has made more progress than Henman had at the same age, but he cautioned: "Everybody wants the next Tim Henman to be here tomorrow and maybe he will be there quicker than we think, but a couple of years is probably reasonable."
Stepanek represents the biggest challenge yet for Murray, who has played only four senior matches, but showed his rich promise in his victory in the US Open junior event last year and his performances on grass this summer. Stepanek, 27, is ranked 13 in the world and is the No 14 seed here.
Henman also faces an east European opponent today in Dmitry Tursunov. The 30-year-old Russian's world ranking has slipped to No 152 due to injury, but he beat Jonas Bjorkman at Queen's recently and enjoyed his finest moment here last year when he knocked Marat Safin out in the first round.
"As I think everybody appreciates, there are opportunities for different players to be able to play on grass now," Henman said. "Tursunov hasn't had that much grass-court experience but he's been playing OK. I still feel that if I improve, I've got a good chance."
David Sherwood, the British No 8, recorded the best result of his career when he beat Brazil's Ricardo Mello on the opening day, but his appearance in the second round yesterday lasted just 79 minutes. He lost 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to Feliciano Lopez, who is seeded 26 and ranked 33 in the world.
Spanish tennis players with a liking for grass are as rare as bullfighters in Sherwood's native Yorkshire, but it was the 25-year-old's misfortune to meet a player whose attacking game, powerful serve and smart volleying are well suited to the surface. Lopez, who has reached the last 16 here twice in the past three years, was so confident that he was even coming into the net regularly behind his second serve.
Sherwood, who stayed on the baseline on his own serve and looked nervous from the start, quickly went 4-0 down. There were no further breaks until the seventh game of the second set, which was a shocker for the Briton. Three poor backhands were followed by the weakest of forehands into the net..
Lopez broke again in the first game of the third set. Sherwood had his only break point three games later, but the 23-year-old Spaniard immediately got out of trouble with an ace.
"I struggled to settle early on," Sherwood admitted afterwards. "But I'll learn a lot from it. Once I get time to reflect, I'll know what to improve and what I can do better for next time."
While Lopez goes on to a third-round match against Safin, the No 5 seed, Sherwood heads for next month's Challenger tournament in Nottingham, where the total prize money will be just over £14,000, with £2,000 going to the winner. In contrast, his one victory here earned him the biggest pay cheque of his career - £15,440.
It has been a memorable year for Sherwood, who played a key role in Britain's Davis Cup victory over Israel in March when he joined forces with Murray to win a doubles rubber against opponents ranked fifth in the world. His own singles ranking is now 261 and he has had "a little bet" with Murray and Alex Bogdanovic on which of them will first break into the world's top 100.
"It's a realistic target for a lot of us now," Sherwood said. "If we go out and carry on getting results, then I don't think it's that far away. I've got a few extra ranking points, so I can push on and hopefully get into bigger and stronger tournaments."
Brits in action
* LOSERS MEN
F Lopez (Sp) bt D Sherwood 6-2 6-4 6-2
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