Win brings Durie to her knees

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The Independent Online
Once more Jo Durie is confounding expectations. According to common lore she should, this morning, have been a former Wimbledon competitor and an ex-player for everywhere else besides. The obituaries signalling the end of a courageously prolonged and spirited career were ready for release. So what happens? Jo goes out and wins for the first time at the All England Championships in four years.

The veteran campaigner from Bristol, the oldest racket-swinger in either singles draw, provoked a heavy measure of national pride and nostalgia on Court Two with a characteristically gutsy display to dispose of her French opponent, Alexia Dechaume-Ballaret. And all on knees that have withstood the pain and pressure of no less than four operations.

Wonky or not, the equipment helped the 34-year-old Durie to a 6-2, 7- 6 victory to earn a place in the second round for the first time since 1991. Not since 1987 has she ventured past that stage, and it would be an even greater achievement to defy both time and doctors' orders to add to her opening success, especially as next up is the fourth seed, Jana Novotna

However, her toughest opponent remains the surgeon who has bullied her out to grass (the retirement kind). "He says I can keep having the operation on my left knee [there have been three] but eventually there will be no kneecap left," said the girl who was once ranked fifth in the world but has now slipped to eighth on the British ladder.

"I don't really relish the thought of that, and the last time he really laid into me, saying that I had to promise I would stop after this year and he'd rather I stopped after Wimbledon. So I have had to go with what he says."

When Durie was forced to concede her second service game of the match the signs were ominous. As it happens that proved the makings of a relentless assault that saw her reel off a winning sequence of six games to put herself well in control.

Now the match took on a new intensity. Back and forth it swayed but not in the tie-break, where Durie's command was total, finishing with an unanswerable forehand volley and a few tears as the patriots saluted a mighty effort.

"The emotions came out a bit. I was that relieved to win. It was funny because I woke up this morning very nervous. I said to Alan [Jones, her coach] that it was ridiculous because it didn't matter if I won or lost. But it was just that I wanted to win so badly."

It is definitely to be the last. There is no going back, a successful Wimbledon or not

"I can't take much more of this. I love it, I really do, but physically it's too much now and I would like to be able to walk when I'm a bit older so it's better that I stop now."

In 1984 Durie, for that year at least, ended the precocious hopes of a 15-year-old Steffi Graf on her Wimbledon debut. Yesterday the five times champion welcomed 14-year-old Martina Hingis into the glare of the Centre Court arena for her senior debut at these Championships and a duel that has been eagerly anticipated since last week's draw.

A slender thing with a pony- tail to match, Miss Hingis puts you in mind of a miniature Graf. Not only in looks and her comportment, but also in her supremely composed tennis, which revealed no fear of trading shots from the baseline with the arch-pugilist. Of course Graf won 6-3, 6-1, but she never looked entirely comfortable, and the odd gremlins distracted her game.

Her incentive was two -pronged. Not only had she to dispel this rising champion of the near-future but also those harrowing memories reminding her of 12 months ago, when she was beaten in the first round of her defence by Lori McNeil.

Still, she was not so keyed up that she was not immediately available to take her place on court following Michael Stich's demise. The rumour was that she had dozed off in the dressing-room. The official line from the German was that she was overdoing the stretching exercises and had not realised her compatriot had succumbed in a tame 6-1 third set.

It might have been some comfort to Graf that well before she strode out ahead of the young Swiss girl, McNeil had already departed, ousted by the 14th seed, Nioko Sawamatsu, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 .

There were few problems for Mary Pierce, who previously had not deigned to appear at the fortnight at any level. The glamourous French girl, the winner of the Australian Open, came through 6-1, 6-2 against Sandra Dopfer of Austria and later said that, like Andre Agassi, she regrets taking so long to overcome her aversion to grass.

"It was fun out there and I enjoyed it," she said. "If I play well and win some matches I hope to be able to appear on Centre Court. "

Conchita Martinez opened proceedings there, the place where she was last seen holding aloft the victor's plate. She was barely tested as she brushed aside Asa Carlsson, 6-1, 6-1 in only 49 minutes, but she knows many more severe tests lie ahead.

Durie's example could not be matched by Clare Wood, the Brighton girl who has succeeded her as Britain's No 1. She lost 6-2, 6-3 against another representative from France, Isabelle Demongeot. Karen Cross and Megan Miller also crashed out. Later, Lizzie Jelfs and Shirli-Ann Siddal ensured that Durie would have to fly the flag alone.

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