Wimbledon 1997: Unqualified joy for Cross

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The Independent Online
A familiar hand stretched through the crowd on Court Six and grabbed the arm of Karen Cross as she began to celebrate becoming the first British player to reach the third round of the women's singles in seven years. It was the firm grip of her coach Alan Jones, the man who guided Jo Durie to the world's top five and who now helps the latest generation of Britain's aspirants.

Cross was not being dragged to her victory party, however. There was no time to celebrate. "He wanted me to go and look a bit at Iva Majoli [her next opponent and recently crowned French Open champion] because she was playing on Court Three. It will be a great experience for me because I haven't played anyone ranked as high as her."

Not that Cross, 23, has ever been ranked so high herself. Her 6-4 6-0 win over Spain's Maria Sanchez Lorenzo catapults her from 320 in the world rankings and into the top 150. It suddenly makes her the British No 2, having started yesterday down at No 8 . That lowly status meant Cross, a Liverpool and Oasis fan from Devon, has had to get this far, as far as Ann Hobbs in 1990, via the qualifying tournament and without the assistance of a wild card - the way every other British girl made it to the All England this year.

"I've won five matches now, I think, and I was more nervous in the last two rounds of the qualifying than I have been at Wimbledon. I didn't feel any nerves, at no stage at all, but I'm on cloud nine now."

Cross has been staying at a friend's house this week, one Lorna Woodroffe, who just happens to be the only other British survivor in the women's singles. She also scored the win of her career by defying 209 places in the world rankings to beat Switzerland's Patty Schnyder. Wood-roffe, another Jones girl, won 6-4 6-4 to beat the world No 33.

"It's a lucky house isn't it?" Cross suggested. "The winning house. It's great, but I haven't seen Lorna since I won because she has gone home feeling tired."

She was not the only one feeling the pace after the longest day of competition since the Championships began. It was supposed to be another day of incessant rain but it turned into a tennis party from start to finish and the British men were not missing out on the action either.

Linconshire's Andrew Richardson led the way. Despite standing proud at 6ft 7in, the British No 5 Richardson has always been overshadowed by Henman and Rusedski, but he now has a chance to gain some clear daylight for himself after beating Spain's Juan Albert Viloca 6-3 3-6 6-4 2-6 6- 2.

By becoming the third British man to reach the third round he has helped equal a 20-year-old record and now faces Rusedski on Court One today for a place in the last 16. Not that he is overwhelmed by his success, or by the prospect of facing Rusedski. "I'm delighted," he mumbled. "It's a good opportunity for both of us and means we will definitely have a Brit in the fourth round."

He could be joined in the third round by a fourth British competitor - and that has never happened before in the Open era - as Essex's Mark Petchey was a set up against American wonderkid Tommy Haas when play was suspended. Even Petchey would have missed out on that honour had Chris Wilkinson not thrown away a two-set lead against Australian Mark Woodforde only to lose in five. Promising Worthing youngster Martin Lee also failed by losing to French qualifier Arnaud Clement.

Surrey's Danny Sapsford nearly made it, impressively winning his first- round match against Nicolas Pereira at the start of the day but finally succumbing to Zimbabwe's Byron Black in his second round match 6-2 7-5 6-2.

That's the problem with Wimbledon this year; you wait five days to finish one match then there is a whole rush of them. Not that Sapsford minds a cheap joke, even in defeat: the last time he had been in the singles so long was 1991. "The last time it rained all week," he grinned.