Day 1, Monday
Surprises seemed unlikely this first day at Wimbledon. The number of seeded
players in both men's and women's singles had been increased to 32 this
year, a change promising extra protection for the topmost stars. But seldom
has Wimbledon produced a greater shock than what unfolded on Court One at
Martina Hingis was the world's Number One, the tournament's #1 seed, and a
former Wimbledon champion (1998). She lost in the first round two years ago
amid a public split with her mother-coach, but since then she had reached at
least the quarters of every Slam. Her Wimbledon opponent this day was
Virginia Ruano Pascual, 27, known recently for winning both the women's and
mixed doubles at Garros.
But the Spanish woman was scarcely a doubles specialist today. Her powerful
overspin forehand dominated many points, while her undersliced backhand
served to frustrate Hingis's bids to exploit the initiative. Ruano Pascual
matched Hingis in court-covering ability, while her side-sliced serve was
good enough to prevent Hingis from attacking. Hingis was the heavier hitter,
but the Spanish player by her boldness and calm plainly earned the win.
Day Two, Tuesday
All top-seeded men and women reached the second round except for Hingis.
Playing from his favored location up on the baseline, Andre Agassi survived a
tough match against net-rushing Peter Wessels, 6-4 and 180 pounds.
The mythical competition among nations unfolded as if in times long ago. The
leading nations on the men's side were the U.S., with eight players into the
second round, France with seven, and Britain with six.
Day Three, Wednesday
Pete Sampras seemed his old self when serving, especially in his movement and
touch at net, but for long stretches Pete seemed helpless to deliver even a
neutral, defensive return against his opponent, Britisher Barry Cowan. Pete's
win in five sets did not bode well for his matches ahead.
Heavy-hitting Thomas Johansson recently won the grass tune-up events at Halle
and Nottingham, attacking net regularly. But on this day, Andy Roddick's
serves and groundstrokes were the heavier and more consistent, as the
teen-aged American convincingly outdueled the Swedish star in four sets.
Based on the form showed this day, Roddick should be favored against Sampras.
Day Four. Thursday
The day's prime match was Lleyton Hewitt's five-set win over American Taylor
Dent, age 20. Hewitt was helpless at the start against Dent's power serving
and strong ground-stroking and volleying. Dent took net aggressively on every
occasion, and when there showed good athleticism and quickness. One of Dent's
serves was clocked at 144 mph. But after a rain break early in set two,
Dent's magic disappeared and Hewitt found his.
The U.S. contingent holds a firm lead in matches won. France was second among
the men, Russia among the women.
Day Five. Friday
Goran Ivanisevic unleased 41 aces against a helpless Andy Roddick to end the
run of the young American. Ivanisevic, 29, who has been a Wimbledon finalist
three times but never the champion, regained his old magic in delivering his
thunderbolts often seemingly at will. In one of the four sets, Roddick was
able to return only four of his opponent's twenty-odd in-court serves.
Roddick persisted in attempting to return serve from up on the baseline, and
in general he seemed to react poorly to Ivanisevic's offerings.
Day Six. Saturday
Australian chances of accumulating many match-wins in men's doubles was
spoiled yesterday and today, when all-Aussie pairs Kilderry-Tramaccchi,
Eagle-Florent, Hanley-Kratzmann, and Arthurs-Ellwood all lost second-round
matches. It is now clear that the U.S. contingent will prevail among the
nations on both the men's and women's side.
Day Eight. Monday
This day's superb tennis featured eight men's and eight women's singles
matches. There were three major surprises. Federer defeated Sampras and
Escude defeated Hewitt, both in five sets, and Ivanisevic defeated Rusedski
in three. I thought that although Sampras played reasonably well, his first
and second serves both lacked the bite that has pulled Pete through tough
matches in past years. Escude showed surprising determination to seize net
when serving, along with excellent quickness and skill once there.
Ivanisevic's fluid serve was as good as ever, as Goran out-aced Rusedski by
22 aces to 14 with fewer double-faults.
For about 15 minutes during the evening, I chatted about Wimbledon on Alabama
Radio Network. Pete Sampras had been my original choice to win the
tournament, so I offered that my new favorite was Andre Agassi. I cited
Agassi's excellent performances in Wimbledon 1999 and 2000, his superb record
in the first months of 2001, and his strong showing to date in the
tournament. I noted that the next day's match-up between Serena Williams and
Capriati should be superb, and I corrected the hosts, who seemed to believe
that Venus's chances to win the tournament were slight.
Day Nine. Tuesday
Ladies' quarter-finals day. The Serena-Capriati meeting equaled expectations.
Williams reached two points short of victory in the second set, but Capriati
managed to stem the tide, playing superbly, thereby preparing the way for a
third-set collapse by Serena, who was quite ill.
Three of the four highest-seeded women succeeded in reaching the semis, while
Hingis's place was taken by the next-higher seed in her section, Justine
Henin (#8). Looking ahead, Henin appeared to lack the sustained weight of
shot to beat Capriati, while Davenport, who seemed to be playing at her best,
seemed the favorite to win their semi-final reprise of last year's final.
The Williams sisters withdrew from the women's doubles because of Serena's
Day Ten, Wednesday
The men's quarters. It was interesting to see Europeans Enqvist and Escude
both play serve-and-volley tennis in their meetings with favored Rafter and
Agassi, respectively. Escude was more successful than Enqvist, winning a
well-played first set over Agassi in a tiebreak. During that set, the trim
French star came to net 18 times, winning 67%. But in his three losing sets
that followed, Escude's winning percentage at net against Agassi's backcourt
artillery fell well below 50%. In all, Escude approached net 77 times, Agassi
The other favorite, Rafter, prevailed in straight sets over Enqvist while
recording only 10 unforced errors. This will be the third year in a row that
Rafter and Agassi meet in the semis. Agassi won in 1999, Rafter in 2000. Both
men lost to Sampras in the finals.
Ivanisevic played effectively in defeating Safin. The Croatian won the battle
of the big serves, recording 30 aces against Safin's 14. Both men often
played cautiously from the baseline. Ivanisevic's post-match remark that he
was now playing the best of his career seemed on the mark.
Henman came through in a close match against the teen-aged Federer, whose
calm determination continued to refute my earlier impression that his
on-court temperament was poor.
It was interesting to compare the four matches by counting the number of "net
approaches." The match having the most net approaches per total points, was
Day Eleven, Thursday
Both women's semis went three sets. In their meeting Venus Williams and
Lindsay Davenport exchanged baseline rocketry, where Venus dominated by her
superior mobility into the corners, neutralizing Davenport's big game.
Davenport afterwards made much of Venus's serving power, which spoiled
Davenport's usual strengths.
As expected, Capriati's havey artillery dominated Justine Henin. But midway
in set two, the Belgian star began to increase the weight of her shots,
meanwhile delivering a series of unanswerable backhand crosscourts. Her
brilliance persisted through a rain delay in the third set, and Capriati was
unable to reply effectively.
The two matches confirmed that the women's game has become almost entirely a
baseline contest, as the ratio of "net approaches" to total points was much
lower than in all four of the men's quarterfinals yesterday.
Days Twelve-Fourteen, Friday through Sunday
Both men's semis went five sets. Rafter prevailed narrowly over Agassi,
showing strong serving, brilliant net play, and--in the games served by
Agassi--solid baseline tactics. In a mid-morning radio interview with WJOX,
Birmingham, I correctly warned that Agassi's early break in the fifth set
might not hold up.
I also picked Ivanisevic over Henman to win the second semi. Breaks for rain
and darkness extended the match to Sunday, when the Croatian's superior
serving finally decided the outcome. Ivanisevic returned Henman's softening
serve brilliantly to gain the final-set break.
In the women's final, it looked briefly that a surge of brilliant shot-making
by Henin could turn the match against Venus, as it had against Capriati. But
Venus's strong serving, her power and mobility to the corners, and surprising
touch at net closed out matters, 6-0 in the third.
Day Fifteen, Monday
The lusty final pitted two magnificent warriors. For four sets, the tall
Croatian and the athletic Aussie battled evenly. Both moved to net behind
every serve. Ivanisevic's strong serving persisted, nearly doubling Rafter's
tally of aces but at a price in double-faults triple Rafter's. Both men
volleyed superbly, Rafter the more naturally and athletically but Ivanisevic
solidly when it mattered. What seemed the inevitability of a five-set final
The fifth set brought purity in serve-and-volley tennis albeit mediocrity in
serve-returning. The serve-returner won more than one point in only 4 of the
first 14 games. There were no break points.
Game fifteen started routinely, Ivanisevic scoring in the first point with a
virtual winner off his return of Rafter's second serve, and Rafter answering
with a splendid volley to the deep corner. It was 15-all.
It came with a suddenness not unusual in grass-court tennis. Horribly,
Rafter's next three first serves all missed. Brilliantly, Ivanisevic returned
all three second serves--the first one to the Rafter feet producing a floating
volley out, the second one a forehand cross-court winner off a nice,
centerline service, then finally a clean rocket off a softish serve into the
Ivanisevic forehand wheelhouse.
But matters were not yet done, as the Ivanisevic alter ego--the "bad
Goran"--suddenly stirred in game sixteen. At match-point 40-30, Ivanisevic
double-faulted. Then two points later, at a second match-point, the Croatian
double-faulted again. Rafter missed a passing-shot try by centimeters, but at
match-point #3 the Australian came through with a backhand lob winner.
Staying calm, Goran reached match-point #4 with a bold second-serve virtual
ace. Then came yet another second-serve offering, this one a tentative bid
into the Rafter forehand wheelhouse--a serve remindful of the one by Rafter
the previous game that Goran rocketed for the break. Perhaps it was a bad
bounce or perhaps it was a tight Rafter mistiming, but the product was a
Rafter forehand into the net.
It had all come down to a few moments of serve-return perfection by the
Croatian and a split-second flaw in Rafter's final return bid.
I would have rejoiced in either outcome, as I had come to greatly admire both
men during the fortnight. My chagrin at my failed original predictions
remained, however, as I had totally underestimated Ivanisevic's ability to
regain, indeed surpass, his skills of years ago.
The annual celebration of the sport at Wimbledon once again linked tennis
people worldwide. The anachronistic grass surface, and the well-behaved,
sportsmanlike, and--on the final day--wondrously noisy gallery redeemed our
affection for the magnificent history and traditions of the game. If grass
indeed seems out of character with today's tennis, I hope it will survive in
just one of the four great arenas of our sport--a challenge to our future
champions to build a unique dimension into their superb arsenals.