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True Brit… it's game, set and match again as crowd howls for underdog

OF THE myriad narratives which run through Wimbledon, none displays greater – some might say, misplaced – optimism than the annual charge of the plucky Brits.

Occasionally, there will be a genuine contender but every year, a handful of inexperienced outsiders have enjoyed the patronage of the crowd, courtesy of nothing more than their place of birth.

The All England Club yesterday saw no fewer than three British players – Anne Keothavong, Andy Murray and Chris Eaton – grace the show courts of Wimbledon, only one of whom might be considered capable of greatness.

On Wednesday, Scotland's Elena Baltacha had entered the arena with high hopes after a stunning first-round victory. But those hopes were brushed aside and she quickly exited.

With that match a distant memory, a fresh sense of expectancy burst into life yesterday.

As the first to grace Centre Court, Anne Keothavong might have expected a rapturous welcome, but her relative anonymity rendered the crowd's response one of cordiality rather than exuberance.

Given that her opponent was Venus Williams, the defending champion and four-times winner, it was always going to be a formidable challenge for the 24-year-old, ranked 92nd in the world.

Yet plucky she proved. In the opening set, Keothavong, born in Hackney to Laotian parents, took Williams to the edge.

Ultimately however, errors by the young Brit gave the American the upper hand with the first set, by which point the atmosphere around the court had frittered away.

Mustering all her power, Williams took control proper, eventually winning 7-5, 6-2.

A quarter of an hour later, however, a rousing cheer greeted the tallest poppy of them all, Andy Murray, due to play his second-round match. Minutes beforehand, the audience was suitably whipped up with the appearance of Tim Henman arriving courtside in his new role as BBC pundit. "Come on, Tim!" a few budding humourists let rip.

In due time, the serious stuff began, and the young man who has assumed Henman's potentially crushing mantle came on. Murray, who for a fortnight each year assumes an amorphous nationality – British when winning, Scottish when losing – appeared relaxed with the crowd. In the run up to the tournament, some had posited that the surliness synonymous with the 21-year-old would cool the ardour of the home support.

If so, yesterday's attendees did not show it. "Go on, Andy!" was a cry repeated time and again. One young woman displayed a sense of irony hitherto unseen in SW19, her placard reading, "Come on, Tim!", but with the last word crossed out, and a crude "Andy" scrawled beside it. Murray did not appear in need of rousing support and was more than capable of dismantling the Belgian Xavier Malisse on his own.

The Scot took just over 90 minutes to dispatch the 27-year-old, exiting to wild cheers, the loudest of which seemed to come from those in Saltire facepaint.

&#149 As The Scotsman went to press last night Chris Eaton, 20, lost the second set against No25 seed Dmitry Tursunov of Russia, 6-2. Tursunov led 2-0. A strong contingent travelled up from his home village, East Horsley.

Another great hope… another name for that hill

BY RIGHTS, it should be an anonymous patch of ground well away from the courts where the real action takes place. But in recent years, Wimbledon's main picnic area has assumed its own importance.

Officially known by the All-England Club as Aorangi Terrace, the stretch of grass is used by fans without show-court tickets to watch matches live on a giant television screen.

The name Aorangi Terrace, though, has never quite stuck.

Instead, it has undergone a series of name changes as British tennis fans project their hopes and dreams on to the latest hopeful.

For years, it was known as Henman Hill; whenever Greg Rusedski played, it was Rusedski Ridge. With Andy Murray's star now in the ascendant, it has generally become known as Murray Mount, although canny Scots supporters believe Mount Murray, or Murrayfield, make for better names.

However, with the 20-year-old Chris Eaton playing at Wimbledon yesterday, followers from Surrey have been demanding yet another name to confuse matters further. "I think they should rename it Eaton Everest," said Megan Morgan, a 17-year-old from the player's home village of East Horsley.

The area is actually named after Aorangi Park, the London New Zealand Rugby Club's ground, which was situated on the site until 1981.

 
 
 

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