In these days of strutting, high-strung, spoiled and frequently boorish tennis players, Englishman Mark Cox evokes memories of a more gentlemanly era - "A time," in the memorable phrase of former South African Davis Cup player Gordon Forbes, "when tennis was a game played a white."
Cambridge-educated, courtly in manner, becomingly modest, and yet competitive in the best sense of the word, Cox at 35 is something of an anachronism: a professional player who can converse engagingly on subjects unrelated to the spin of a fuzzy ball, and who never overestimates his impact on world affairs.
It is encouraging to lovers of the way the game used to be that there is still a place for him in the final 16 of the Wimbledon championships. The soft-spoken but hard-hitting left-hander today saved five match points to beat Frenchman Gilles Moretton, 3-6, 6-7, 6-1, 7-6, 7-5. He will play Jimmy Connors in the fourth round Saturday.
He is not optimistic - despite the encouragement of British fans who always unconsciously put the burden of great expectations on home players at Wimbledon.
"People say, 'Well it's your year,' and they mean well. But even with the greatest will in the world, a player of my stature can never say he has a good chance of winning Wimbledon. So there's an element of distortion of reality there," Cox said.
Cox is very much a product of what he calls "the British way of life." Values are different here. Sportsmanship, gallantry and earnest effort remain as important as winning. The Brisish prefer a smiling loser who gave his all to a scowling, surly victor. And while this may be that attitude that lost the empire, it has a lasting charm.
"I wouldn't say that I was a goal-oriented person, when you come right down to it, and perhaps that's one of my failings," Cox said. "I've been rather delighted to take everything as it comes. I'm delighted to be through to the 16s and playing Jimmy Connors, and we'll see how it goes."
The only standard he insists on upholding is his pride of performance. If he does his best he has done enough. It is the long-white-flannel tradition.
"The secret to it all, I think, is to enjoy it. It's damn difficult to do at times, but I really think that's the key to performance. . . . it's the fun that provides the inspiration and pumps the adrenalin," Cox said. "And at the end of the day, what does it all matter, anyway?"