Wimbledon '95: Frana reaches the heights

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The Independent Online
Not the least attractive match in Wimbledon's first round involves two non-seeds. Henri Leconte versus Javier Frana has no chance of making a show court and television will be turning its attention to Britain's latest hero. In all probability they will be tucked away in some corner of the All England Club.

For those who believe the subtler arts of tennis have been blasted away by modern racket technology, however, that cranny will be worth discovering. Leconte, French, flamboyant and flawed, would be entertaining knocking up against a wall but against a kindred spirit, the prospect is as pleasant in anticipation as the strawberries and cream.

Frana warmed up for Wimbledon by winning the Nottingham Open on Saturday, defeating Australia's Todd Woodbridge 7-6, 6-3. Even in a fierce wind that made precision difficult, the Argentinian's touch occasionally had a delicacy unmatched outside the cake icing in the refreshment area. Some of his drop shots defied science.

Frana, though, is one who has defied most conventions. South American tennis players tend to regard grass as a surface they would rather graze cows on. Clay is their medium, the baseline their centre of operations. The 28-year-old from Buenos Aires is an exception, coming in after his serves, scoring most points with his volleys.

He is also lucky to be still playing after contracting hepatitis last year that put his career is jeopardy. His title on Saturday was his first since, an emphatic endorsement of his recovery and determination.

"This is one of the great moments of my career," Frana said after winning pounds 31,000 and moving to a career high in the world rankings in the top 40. "At one time I wondered if I would be able to play again."

Woodbridge certainly knows he can play. The Australian repeatedly attacked Frana's weaker backhand but apart from saving two set points to take the first into a tie-break, he found he was outgunned and by the end had been comprehensively outplayed

"It has been a good preparation for Wimbledon," Frana said after a 1hr 22min work-out. "On clay you can tire yourself out before a big tournament but here I've had match practice and, because the points and matches are shorter, I feel very strong."

Not strong enough to go anywhere near winning the tournament, of course, but he will be worth watching. Can you always say the same about the top seeds?

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