Wimbledon `97: Disappointment for the out crowd

No 1 Court proved an empty, deflating experience for two Britons yesterday, writes Richard Edmondson
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The stock exchange for today's Wimbledon tickets suffered a Black Thursday when things did not go exactly to plan in yesterday's quarter- finals. Cedric Pioline and Michael Stich advanced, at the same time sending a wrecking ball through the dream semi. Greg and Tim are out.

It will be of some consolation to Greg Rusedski that something happened to the crowd on the way to the forum and his humbling at the hands of a Frenchman was not widely observed.

You would have had to be buried alive for the last fortnight to miss this day as a rare moment of sporting significance in the British sporting calendar, yet, at 11 o'clock, the people's army (officer division) appeared to be still taking people's brunch. In fact, there were many who were detained in the hospitality units and debenture holders' lounge by further tiffin and Rusedski played throughout to a less than packed house.

This, he assured us, did not contribute to his 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 defeat. "I wasn't disappointed with the crowd," he said. "The people that came to watch were tremendous and supportive and trying to get me going. I'm just disappointed I couldn't give them something to cheer about at the end of the day."

That day dawned with ominous portents for Rusedski in his morning newspaper. Firstly there seemed to be unequivocal thought that he was on his way to an all-British semi-final. Then there was mention of an Australian cricketer appearing at Old Trafford, a certain Greg Blewett.

Under filthy skies and in the presence of the one-man monsoon season that is Cliff Richard, Rusedski lost the first point to a forehand passing shot from Pioline. There was no way back from there.

The Briton, who was wearing voluminous basketball pants, lost that game and in all honesty failed to find a foothold in the match. Greg is the post-decimal Roscoe Tanner, a left-arm swinger with little more than a huge service in the arsenal. If he could play himself you would be assured of a very short match indeed.

On this occasion the howitzers were erratic and the returns a misnomer. This meant a first set barren in terms of continuity. There are more rallies from Paris to Dakar than there were in the opening cycle.

However, Greg has at least developed a strange intimacy with his towel this fortnight, a relationship which makes him the Linus of the greensward. Wiping his face is not a functional act, it is more a nervous tic on important points. He tried another system yesterday involving repeated change of the headband. That did not work either and you knew the game was up when he asked if his opponent was usings new balls just after he had seen them rolled out of the canister for his service game.

There was more tennis in the first game of Henman's match with Stich, but then rain drove the players off court for over two and a half hours. It seems they were drinking bottles of pop during the suspension as both had to leave the arena again after play resumed.

Stich emerged with two strands of cotton drooping from his shorts. Detailed inspection revealed these to be his legs. On a bad day, the German can believe they only hold G7 summits to invent ways of doing him down, and if moaning was a test of merit he would be an Olympian.

Stich, however, has been liberated by his decision to retire and Wimbledon will be his last Grand Slam tournament. The 1991 champion has a degenerative shoulder injury and has also become tired with the grind of travelling. On yesterday's showing there will be few in the locker room offering a lift to entice him back on the circuit.

By the time of the second session most of the ticket-holders had been disinterred and they witnessed the unusual sight of Henman becoming increasingly traumatised. Having unscrewed his effervescence against Richard Krajicek in the previous round our man had forgotten to put the cap back on overnight. He was flat. Henman was distracted, vocally self-critical and eventually driven to thrashing a bag with his racket.

The British No1 described it as the worst day of his tennis life, and he was almost as upset as the pavement touts left with sheaves of tickets for the nightmare semi-finals.