Wimbledon 1997: Smith makes a lonely exit
Sunday 29 June 1997
The match was on Court No 3, more a peep court than a show court, flanked on one side by a walkway and on the other by a little grandstand, the top layer of which also affords a fine view of Court No 2, which yesterday featured Mary Pierce. It is a measure of the esteem in which women's tennis is held in Britain that many of the crowd turned their backs on Smith to watch the French player instead.
Smith, 25, is a year older than her opponent yesterday, but is ranked some 70 odd places lower on the computer at 121. But such a mathematical gulf will have been no consolation for the north London-based player, who seemed badly out of touch and rarely threatened to make an impression.
It cannot have helped that British fans were comfortably outnumbered by their Japanese counterparts. The greatest threat to Sawamatsu's composure came not from her opponent but from the flash bulbs of her compatriots' cameras.
Smith won the toss and held her first service game comfortably but she was broken in the third game of the first set and thereafter struggled, sitting between games with her brow furrowed, staring at a towel clenched tightly in her hands.
There was little to separate the players in terms of style - neither has an outstanding strength - but Sawamatsu proved the stronger retriever, often conjuring winners from unlikely angles when Smith seemed to have done enough to secure the point.
Too often the Briton would set up a promising position in a rally only to succumb to an unforced error, drifting a sliced backhand long for slamming forehands into the net. She held three break points for a revival at 1- 5 in the first set, but could not convert any of them.
There was a flicker of defiance in the second set when Smith battled back to hold her first service game from 0-40 with two confident aces, and again shortly afterwards when she broke Sawamatsu's serve. But the combination of careful, percentage back hands and vehement forehand winners proved too demanding to sustain, and Smith's confidence visibly drained away.
The Japanese player, who has a fine record in SW19 having reached the fourth round on two previous occasions, started to find corners of the court that were beyond Smith's desperate lunges and quickly wrapped up the match. Smith doffed her headband and strode swiftly off to the locker- room, untroubled and unnoticed by the crowd. Sawamatsu, by contrast, was mobbed. One British fan summed up the patriotic reaction. "I'm off to watch Rusedski," he said.
The crowd around No 3 Court shifts its composition, as fans of different nationalities fill and vacate the unreserved seats according to the changing attractions. Earlier yesterday, the Japanese fans had been joined by a small but vociferous group of Latvians as Larisa Neiland took on another Naoko, this time surnamed Kijimuta. This was a gutsier encounter than Sawamatsu and Smith provided, but once again the Japanese fans were happiest as Naoko Mark 1 prevailed 7-5, 6-2.
Having endured a seemingly interminable wait for a sadly anti-climatic singles debut, Smith must now seek consolation in the doubles, in which she partners Olga Barabanschikova. The Belarussian teenager was another casualty in the singles yesterday, so the pairing will be thirsting for victory.
They may remain parched: they have drawn in the first round the top seeds, Gigi Fernandez and Natalia Zvereva.
Latest in Sport
Diego Costa injury: Chelsea striker a doubt for Everton match after suffering muscle injury
Mario Balotelli posts hilarious Beatles picture on Instagram as he awaits Liverpool debut
Arsenal vs Besiktas player ratings: Alexis Sanchez? Jack Wilshere? Mesut Ozil? Who was the star man at the Emirates Stadium?
Champions League draw: Liverpool meet Real Madrid, but should they fear facing the reigning champions?
William Carvalho to Manchester United: Midfielder on the cards for Louis van Gaal after Arturo Vidal doubts grow
- 2 Joan Rivers: 'Palestinians deserve to be dead'
- 3 Daily Show's Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for its Ferguson coverage
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
Exclusive: We share blame for creating 'jihad generation', says Muslim strategist
Robin Williams Emmys tribute led by Billy Crystal criticised for including 'racist' joke about Muslim woman
The Rotherham child abuse scandal is a tale of apologists, misogyny and double standards
Scottish independence TV debate: Pumped-up Alex Salmond bounces back in bruising second round against Alistair Darling
Do you realise just how foolish the UK looks?
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Food Tech/Textiles Teacher We ...
£85000 - £100000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing - Slough, Berkshi...
£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Humanities, Religious Education ...
£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term from S...