* * * *
There were no further interruptions. The sky gradually cleared and the stands were awash
with all the colours of an artist's palette. Nathan recovered from his jittery start and
took the second set with an ace down the middle of the court, forcing a linesman into
dramatic evasive action. Neither player was troubled on serve during the third set, but
Nathan took the tiebreaker with some deft volleying.
When Nathan's Swedish opponent missed an easy volley to lose his service game halfway through
the fourth set, the mood of the crowd subtly changed. With a British success seemingly within
reach at long last, the excitement and encouragement gave way to tension and anxiety, and it
seemed to get through to Nathan who double-faulted and then missed a forehand to lose his own
serve. Seizing his chance, the Swede served out to love and then pounced all over Nathan's
serves, despatching each of them to the lines with power and precision. Despite Nathan's
desperate effort to break back, the tall Swede held serve to take the match into a final
deciding set. Punching the air, he ran over to his chair and grinned at his coach.
There was no doubt about it - it was a huge momentum switch. The crowd sensed it and fell quiet.
Jez tried to make eye contact with Nathan, but his young charge simply sat motionless in his
chair staring ahead at the court. It was precisely at this moment that Gill Reynolds
decided to take matters into her own hands and get the crowd going. At least that was her
version of events! What really happened was a little less enterprising! Shazia spotted
an ant crawling on her furby, dropped it onto a glass of white wine that Gill was balancing on
a bag in her lap. The wine splashed all over Gill's dress and she jumped out of her seat,
throwing up her hands in horror. This prompted a hugely successful Mexican Wave all around the
court. It certainly did the trick! The crowd started to roar again and Nathan had a spring in
his step as he walked to the baseline. He promptly served four consecutive aces. The gauntlet
had been thrown down and no mistake!
Nathan had shed the "superbrat" reputation that had blighted his early career, but the match
statistics reveal he received a warning for coaching at 4-3 in that final set. There was
a sound like a burst of static during the change of ends and several people, including the
umpire, heard a short exchange of words between Nathan and somebody else.
"Vot iss dis?" asked the Swede, appealing to the umpire.
Confused and disconcerted, the umpire responded, "Code violation - coaching - warning, Mr Austin!"
"What do you mean? No one was coaching me!" Nathan protested. He decided, however, that it was
not an ideal moment for an altercation with the umpire and just shrugged his shoulders and
At 5-6 30-all, the Swede stabbed a low volley into the net and Nathan had a match point! The
umpire had to appeal for quiet four times and still the odd voice could be heard screaming
support. Finally the stadium was hushed. The serve hit the service line and skidded slightly,
but Nathan managed to get his racket under it and chip it back over the middle of the net.
The Swede directed his volley to Nathan's backhand and up went the lob. The ball hung in the
air. Time appeared to freeze. Nathan knew it was out of his hands now - the rally was over, one
way or the other. The Swede had not been too convincing with his overheads during the match,
but this one was fairly easy. He adjusted his feet, pointed to the ball and threw the racket
at it, meeting it right in the "sweet spot". The ball fizzed towards the baseline. Nathan was
nowhere near it. All he could do was watch and pray.
The linesman's arm flew out. "Out!" he called.
"Game, set and match, Austin. 4-6 6-2 7-6 5-7 7-5," announced the umpire, but his voice was
drowned out by the din that erupted around the stadium. The crowd rose to their feet in one
spontaneous movement. The Swede plodded up to the net with his hand outstretched. Tracey and
Shazia jumped up and down hugging each other. Brian, who did not even know what a "high-five"
was, exchanged "high-fives" with everybody.
Meanwhile, back on the court, Nathan, who had seen the little puff of white where the ball
had landed, tried to locate his coach through all the commotion in the players' box. Jez
was still sitting down, motioning with his hands that the ball had been "good". Nathan nodded
in agreement and signalled to his opponent that the call had been incorrect. Then he walked
over to receive serve in the deuce court.
"Mr Austin has conceded the point," declared the umpire, pausing for the celebrations to
subside before calling the amended score, "Deuce!"
As the spectators took stock of what had happened, they sat down again, and there was a
fleeting moment of absolute silence. Then somebody in the crowd stood up and applauded,
followed by another and another. It was not a rapturous applause this time, but it was sincere and sustained and unanimous. The BBC later reported that the standing ovation lasted almost
That Nathan was affected by the crowd's reaction is not in doubt. Whether or not it cost him
the title, though, is unclear. The next two points and the next two games went by in a blur
and before he knew it, he had lost the match and was shaking hands at the net. The tall Swede
put a sympathetic arm round his shoulder and graciously thanked him for his sportsmanship.
Minutes later, he was presented with the runner-up trophy and was honoured with another
"Why'd he do it?" Neil asked anyone who would listen. "Why? Why?"
Tracey's eyes filled and she swallowed hard to avoid crying. Gill chewed on the edge of her
programme and glanced over to Nathan's mother who was smiling and sobbing at the same time.
Jez finally caught up with Nathan outside the players' dressing room and they embraced.
"I'm proud of you, Nathan," said Jez, emotion choking his voice.
"I lost!" said Nathan.
Jez held him at arms length and looked him in the eye. "Yes, you lost a match," he said. "But
you won the hearts of millions of people today! Remember, some things are bigger than winning!"
"You'd better go and shower. I'll catch up with you later."
Moments later, a small, bald man approached. Jez recognised him immediately.
The man nodded. "Yes, Jeremy. It's me!"
"Is it really you this time?"
"It's really me," Phil confirmed. "I'm sorry. It's been, y'know, very difficult for me . . . I
tried to keep in touch . . . I'm sorry you've had to, y'know, put up with this tele-immersion
thing. Not very satisfactory at all. Anyway . . ."
Jez nodded to indicate he understood.
Phil continued, "Now I . . . I just want to hug my son!"
"Oh right! Yes," said Jez. "He's just having a shower."
"No, I meant . . . I'll see Nathan in a minute," said Phil. "Right now, I want to hug my
He took Jez's arms and nodded, anticipating the question Jez was unable to utter. "Yes,
Jeremy. I'm your father. Nathan is your half-brother. And I … I'm so proud of both of you!"
Later that evening, Jez and Nathan returned with their father to the hotel. As they drove
through South East London, children everywhere were playing tennis in the street. Jez leant
back in the seat and put his hands behind his head. He smiled when he spotted the little yellow
ball flying past the window.