Chris Eaton, the Briton who has spent all but four days of his 20 years in splendid anonymity, plays the eighth and most important match of his exhausting Wimbledon campaign on Thursday when he takes on The Tursanator or, perhaps, a Russian whose name should be Dmitry Cursunov.
The Muscovite does, of course, answer to Tursunov and there is something he likes about Britons. The combustible 25-year-old beat Tim Henman in five of their seven meetings, including so memorably 8-6 in a fifth set classic on Centre Court in 2004, and knocked Alex Bogdanovic out of Queen’s a couple of years later.
He takes perverse pleasure out of beating Brits on their home turf and even went on record a while back saying he likes seeing people leave the stadium with tears in their eyes.
Whatever happens today Eaton will not end up with tears in his eyes, a la compatriot Elena Baltacha. Win or lose he will have played more matches to reach round two than Roger Federer must to take the title after winning three in pre-qualifying, three more in qualifying and – most dramatically, his first round match with Serbian No 3 Boris Pashanski. That is a huge achievement in itself.
That the World No 661 demolished a player nearly 550 places higher in the rankings, inside two hours and in straight sets, only improves the story of a man who decides which events he enters not by the ranking points on offer but by whether he can afford to travel there. Budget flights, cheap hotels and a room in his parents’ house are staples in the glamorous life of a player typical of many on the ITF challenger tour. At least the grass court season affords him the chance to save a bit of money by living at home, in Surrey.
That was not a luxury, if that’s the correct term, he was able to enjoy on his last trip overseas which took him to Uzbekistan – not to the relatively bright lights of the capital Tashkent, but to an unknown outpost 300 miles away in Fergana. It was anything but luxurious.
“All you need in these places is a bed, a couple of times we got a fridge which was awesome because it was pretty warm out there. One of the places was seven euros a night which was good value,” he says a day ahead of a match that will be worth at least £27,000.
Once more he battled through the qualifiers but this time lost in the first round, to a German whose name is marginally less famous than his own.
It was the sort of experience that makes one consider one’s lot in life: “I didn’t play well, I struggled a little. I don’t even know how much I won, something like £160, not much.”
That he is able to laugh about it now is largely down to a huge serve that sent down 26 aces against Pashanski and 31 in a qualifier with Frenchman Olivier Patience. Against the Serb he produced four in a row in the decisive game which took him to 5-4 in the third set.
“If I use my serve well I hold pretty easily,” he says. “That makes me relax and means I can basically relax, have a swing and do what I want to break the other guy.”
He must do exactly that against Tursunov today. The Russian is a fine player but is also an accident waiting to happen. If Eaton keeps him at bay with a first serve percentage somewhere in the 70s there is a chance his opponent will slip into the sort of mental disintegration that blighted Pashanski.
“I am just going to try and play my game, serve some aces and compete with the guy. I qualified here and I am playing guys who are ranked miles higher than me and any pressure there is, I put on because I’m playing so well I think I can beat these guys.”
Eaton prepared for his first round by watching Gladiator – ‘not the boring bits just the fight scenes,’ – and has tried to model his game on Pete Sampras. If he is to win today he will need not only his first serve but the spirit of a gladiator and maybe even Pete’s pistol too.
The day is almost thronged with home interest. Andy Murray plays Xavier Malisse and looks to build on his enjoyable opening victory over Fabrice Santoro, while women’s No?1 Anne Keothavong will enjoy the biggest afternoon of her career against reigning champion Venus Williams.
A victory for the 24-year would be the biggest upset since Martina Hingis lost to Jelena Dokic in 1999 and is probably as likely as Eaton beating the Curse of the Brits.