Wimbledon 97: Sanchez slaughters woeful Wood

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The Independent Online
When Clare Wood arrived for her post-match interview yesterday she banged her head, which, as a metaphor for a day that might have ended her singles career at Wimbledon, could not have been more appropriate. Some people go out of the All England Club on a high; her bruising parting located depths she did not deserve.

Wood tried to find an epitaph just in case an impending operation on her right leg is not a success and she came up with: "Please give me a game." Yesterday on Centre Court her prayers were either not heard or completely ignored and she lost 6-0, 6-0 to the eighth seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

It was a 50-minute slaughter that was so grisly the BBC must have feared putting it on television before the 9pm watershed. "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" was a less one-sided affair. As someone put it afterwards: "At least Clare disguised which was her weaker wing.''

Which was unfair because Wood, the former British No 1, does have a wing so lame it makes successful singles almost impossible. Just before she injured her right hamstring in a freak accident three years ago she reached a career high of 77 in the world. Yesterday she was languishing where the sun does not shine, at 365.

"It's the hamstring," she said. "I have two detached bands of muscle that need to be re-attached which means for the last three years I've been playing with one band instead of three. It's an understatement to say it's a slight hindrance at this level.''

The injury occurred during an exhibition match in Sussex three years ago when Wood slipped as she stretched for a ball and hyperextended her leg. If it had been diagnosed properly at the time the damage would have been restricted, now, as she says, the prognosis of a successful return is "slim".

At 29 she can ill afford the six-month lay-off recuperation will require. Retirement beckons and an uncertain future. "Any job offers?" she asked, her humour not entirely hiding her fears.

She could not find the strength even to reach respectability yesterday, so that while Britain's leading men were felling seeds you could not see Wood for the freeze. Her first point did not come until the third game and she managed just 22 in all.

On her first point Wood punched the air in mock delight. Later, after the Spaniard had repulsed a barrage of volleys to win yet another rally she grabbed hold of the ball and threw it over the net. It was the only way she was going to better a woman who has reached the last two Wimbledon finals.

"The crowd were great," Wood said. "I thought if I could get a cheer like that for getting a point imagine what they'd do if I win a game? When it got to 6-0, 3-0 I was thinking `Come on, you can do it' but although I got to a couple of game points she played them very well."

It was indicative of the Spaniard's concentration that she did not yield a fraction to allow her opponent a paltry souvenir. "If you relax a bit the other player can start playing better," she said. "I tried not to give her any chance." Wood could only stand painfully and admire.

Karen Cross, from Exeter, did rather better, becoming the first British qualifier to win a match in the main women's draw since 1976 when she beat the world No 44, the American Linda Wild, 6-4, 6-2.

"It's the biggest result of my career," Cross, who is guaranteed pounds 7,880, said. "It's my first win over someone in the top 100." She now plays another, Maria Sanchez Lorenzo, in the second round. "I hope I get one of the better courts, I'm the sort of person who will be nervous beforehand but I like having the crowd behind me."

Shirli-Ann Siddall, the British No 3, might have followed her when she led the four times finalist in Grand Slam tournaments, Helena Sukova, 5-2. She could not grasp her chance and it disappeared without trace and she won only two more games before succumbing 7-6, 6-1. Even one of those was only grasped from love-40 down on her serve.

Jamie Delgado and Luke Milligan did not trouble their opponents much either in their resumed matches. Delgado was on the brink of defeat overnight against Jerome Golmard and fell over it immediately, losing 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2, while Milligan also did not linger for long, succumbing 2-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2 to Arnaud Clement. For both Frenchmen it was a first win at Wimbledon.