High noon on Court 3 and the soaring temperature was measurably more Equator than Ormskirk, the birthplace of Barry Cowan. For the tightly-packed partisan crowd, slapping on the suncream as they stood six deep on the margins, it was the perfect arena to watch their man attempt to make the third round for the first time ever.
But the occasion, and the opponent, Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador, ultimately proved too hot to handle. The Latin American prevailed in four sets, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to book his own first-time appearance in round three.
While Cowan marched out, Greg Rusedski marched on, albeit after a scare when he squandered match points in the third set against the South Korean qualifier, Hyung-Taik Lee, to let his opponent back in with a hope. The British No 2 recovered, determined not to join the big-name cull elsewhere, and won an early break in the fourth set before progressing 6-1, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.
The next test for the Briton will be tough, a third-round match against Andy "Future of American Tennis" Roddick, who yesterday completed an easy 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Alberto Martin of Spain.
Next up for Cowan, ranked a lowly No 251 to Lapentti's No 27, will be the men's doubles today, playing alongside Jamie Delgado. It will be interesting to note, if things do not go their way, whether their chosen expletive will be "Lapentti!". Yesterday's victor also accounted for Delgado, in the first round, saving four match points against him in the process.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed, especially having started so well, taking the first set, and the first game of the second," Cowan said. "He obviously got better and better, grew in confidence, and I obviously dipped in a little bit of form."
The British No 6, who last year took Pete Sampras to five sets in the second round, did at least start brightly yesterday, taking the first set with two breaks of serve while dropping his only once. Appreciative "Oooohs" started to ring out as early as the fourth game, when a gentle drop shot took him 3-1 ahead and suggested an upset was on the cards. Six games later, as he served for the set with composure, there were full-blown cries of "C'mon Barry" urging him on. Politely, of course.
It got better still in the first game of the second set with Lapentti serving. He prefers the slower surfaces but is no mug on grass, as his Davis Cup win over Rusedski at the All England Club two years ago showed.
But two backhands into the net and an overhit drive handed Cowan two break points. Lapentti drew back to deuce but then, during a rally on the next point, the Briton hit three splendid long backhands that skimmed the net and put away a volley for advantage.
Lapentti's next serve was called out, at which point he walked to the net, head arched to the heavens, lamenting: "No, no, no, no." Then, his feathers truly ruffled, he inexplicably squawked like a parrot.
His second serve was fine but his follow-through shot was well off the perch. He threw down his racket, stamped his feet and muttered dark words. A strop, as Ormskirk folk might say.
But that, by and large, was that. Cowan was immediately broken back, and as his own serve and confidence faltered, Lapentti's grew stronger. The second set swung on a string of double-faults by Cowan in the 10th game which gave Lapentti parity and the initiative. He never looked in danger from there. Another day in the sun for a Briton was over.
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