Expect the unexpected

Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf are the obvious favourites again, but the status quo may be regularly upset during a fascinating fortnight, says John Roberts
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Jeff Tarango said he had a big beef with the umpire, which might explain a lot. The angry American has not been invited back to the All England Club on this occasion, but Wimbledon could still turn out to be a tournament for the eccentric.

While there is a strong case for the status quo, Pete Sampras winning for the fourth time in a row and Steffi Graf triumphing for a seventh time, the plot, sub-plot and cast of characters are fascinating.

As Goran Ivanisevic said: "If you want to bet for sure money, then you bet on Sampras, but if you want to gamble a little bit, you can bet on me. With me, you never know if it is sunny or cloudy."

The big-serving Croat and his supporters have been frustrated in two finals. He lost to Andre Agassi in 1992 and to Sampras in 1994.

Monica Seles was defeated in her only final here, by Graf in 1992, which was a thoroughly miserable experience, but one with which she could cope. The following April, Seles was stabbed in the back during a change-over while playing in Hamburg, and she is on her first visit to Britain since.

Ivanisevic and Seles could have reason to celebrate on this occasion, although other names are also causing excitement.

Boris Becker, the runner-up to Sampras last year, seems rejuvenated after starting the year with a victory at the Australian Open. His compatriot Michael Stich, a finalist at the French Open, appears to have recaptured the form which enabled him to defeat Becker for the title in 1991. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who in Paris a fortnight ago became the first Russian to win a Grand Slam singles title, could have an outstanding chance, if fully fit. And wouldn't it be something if Stefan Edberg took the prize as a retirement gift?

Ah, yes, and there is Agassi, the No 3 seed, who is capable of everything, or nothing. The Las Vegan, who has only played four matches since his success at the Lipton Championships in Florida in March, was last glimpsed at the French Open, impersonating Yul Brynner as the King of Siam.

Not for the first time, doubts have been expressed concerning Agassi's condition and his commitment to the sport, the one being a reflection of the other. It will be interesting to see what shape he is in when he re-emerges for the first time since losing in the second round in Paris.

Agassi is projected to play Todd Martin in the fourth round, Kafelnikov in the quarter-finals and Becker in a reprise of last year's semi-final, which appeared to be going the American's way for a set and a half.

Becker, who in the quarter-finals squeaked past the Frenchman Cedric Pioline, 9-7 in the fifth set, looked twice the player when winning his fourth Stella Artois title at Queen's Club nine days ago.

Sampras forsook Queen's this year in order to rest after his exertions in Paris, where he advanced to the semi-finals for the first time but was too drained to offer much resistance to an inspired Kafelnikov.

In addition to Sampras's lack of grass-court matches, emotional factors may enter the equation. Last month his coach, Tim Gullikson, lost his battle against brain cancer. Sampras dedicated his third victory to Gullikson a year ago, would no doubt do the same if he becomes the first man since Bjorn Borg to win four in a row.

The 24-year-old American opens his defence this afternoon against a compatriot, Richey Reneberg. Assuming Sampras's name is not added to Manuel Santana's as the second men's singles title holder and No 1 seed to lose his opening match, he could be looking anxiously towards his next opponent.

Mark Philippoussis, a 19-year-old from Melbourne, is making his senior debut at the championships, having almost blown Sampras off the court in the Australian Open in January.

The 6ft 4in Philippoussis seems a natural to revive the great Aussie tradition at Wimbledon, sooner or later. He will have to be wary of his first-round opponent, Javier Frana, an Argentinian who has advanced to the third round in his past three visits. Last year he added to the Frenchman Henri Leconte's early departures.

An encouraging British tradition in recent years has seen a representative in the fourth round of the men's singles. Greg Rusedski marked his arrival from Canada last year by advancing to play Sampras, who defeated him in straight sets.

Rusedski's first-round opponent is the Canadian Daniel Nestor, whose parents moved to Ontario from Belgrade when he was four years old. Should Rusedski prevail against his fellow left-hander, and go on to win a second- round match against either Brett Steven or Tom Kempers, he may face Richard Krajicek, who is overdue a run after a couple of first-round defeats.

Tim Henman, the British No 1, would ignite the tournament if he overcame Kafelnikov in the first round. The 21-year-old from Oxford, while regarded as a late developer, has an impressive range of shots and is not short of confidence. Stranger things have happened, as Henman would confirm. Last year he was disqualified after hitting a ball which stuck a ballgirl.

The women's singles finals have upstaged the men's since Graf overwhelmed Seles four years ago. It would be wonderful if the two greatest players of their generation could meet again, and this time produce a classic.

Graf, if injury free, will take some stopping. In common with Becker, she is more comfortable at Wimbledon than practically anywhere else on earth. And, as she demonstrated at the French Open, tournaments offer temporary relief from the problems surrounding her father, who is in prison accused of tax evasion on her earnings.

Much has been made about what Seles is lacking - fitness and a grass- court game. Her win atEastbourne proves only that she is in a better position to give her best than she was a week ago. We ought to be rejoicing simply that she is here, determined that a dodgy shoulder will not prevent her from hitting the luminous balls a mighty swipe (and with a racket which would appear to incorporate the Wimbledon colours of purple and green).

Logic says Sampras and Graf, eccentricity suggests Ivanisevic and Seles.

Today's order of play at Wimbledon

2.0 start on Centre Court and Court One; 12 noon on others except where stated

Seeded players in capitals

Centre Court

P SAMPRAS (US) v R Reneberg (US); A Grossman (US) v M SELES (US); S EDBERG (Swe) v G Forget (Fr).

Court One

J Fleurian (Fr) v B BECKER (Ger); C MARTINEZ (Sp) v S Farina (It); G IVANISEVIC (Cro) v B Karbacher (Ger).

Court Two

A Costa (Sp) v M CHANG (US); S Smith (GB) v I SPIRLEA (Rom); D Flach (US) v A AGASSI (US); T MARTIN (US) v M Ondruska (SA).

Court Three

K Nagatsuka (Japan) v K DATE (Japan); J COURIER (US) v J Stark (US); M PIERCE (Fr) v P Schnyder (Swit); J Kroslak (Slovak) v A L Foster (GB).

Court Four

M Gustafsson (Swe) v A Ilie (Aus); L McNeil (US) v L Golarsa (It); C Wilkinson (GB) v A Jarryd (Swe); I Gorrochategui (Arg) v A Smashnova (Isr).

Court Five

T Woodbridge (Aus) v S Huet (Fr); J Ward (GB) v C Taylor (GB); C Beecher (GB) v N Gould (GB); P Kamstra (Hol) v N Tauziat (Fr).

Court Six

D Wheaton (US) v F Fetterlein (Den); N Sawamatsu (Japan) v N K Kijimuta (Japan); R Furlan (It) v A Medvedev (Ukr); L Manta (Swit) v A Volkov (Rus).

Court Seven

F Perfetti (It) v M Sanchez Lorenzo (Sp); R Fromberg (Aus) v M Washington (US); M Endo (Japan) v M J McGrath (US); O Ogorodov (Uzbek) v M Damm (Cz Rep).

Court Eight

F Mantilla (Sp) v P Haarhuis (Hol); N Miyagi (Japan) v S Appelmans (Bel); F Dewulf (Bel) v V Spadea (US); D Van Roost (Bel) v M Drake (Can).

Court Nine

J Palmer (US) v T Champion (Fr); K Habsudova (Slovak) v M Grzybowska (Pol); K Carlsen (Den) v N Lapentti (Ecu); R Zrubakova (Slovak) v S H Park (S Kor).

Court 10

G Stafford (SA) v S Noszaly (Hung); K Po (US) v A Cocheteux (Fr); M Tillstrom (Swe) v M Goellner (Ger); R Hiraki (Japan) v C Singer (Ger).

Court 11

A Miller (US) v P Suarez (Arg); G Raoux (Fr) v Y El Aynaoui (Mor); J Renzenbrink (Ger) v J Novak (Cz Rep); A Frazier (US) v D Randriantefy (Madag).

Court 12

M Knowles (Bah) v J Golmard (Fr); Y Kamio (Japan) v N Dechy (Fr); P Bouteyre (Fr) v C Moya (Spain); P Begerow (Ger) v B Schett (Aut).

Court 13

A BOETSCH (Fr) v A Radulescu (Ger); L Raymond (US) v A Montolio (Sp); M Philippoussis (Aus) v J Frana (Arg); M MALEEVA (Bul) v B Rittner (Ger).

Court 14

A COETZER (SA) v E Wagner (Ger); M J Bates (GB) v N Pereira (Ven); D Prinosil (Ger) v W FERREIRA (SA); T Jecmenica (Yug) v G Fernandez (US).

Court 15

A G Sidot (Fr) v C Cristea (Rom); T Johansson (Swe) v J Eltingh (Hol); J Stoltenberg (Aus) v A Voinea (Rom); F Labat (Arg) v T Whitlinger-Jones (US).

Court 16

S Pescosolido (It) v C Woodruff (US); A Dechaume-Balleret (Fr) v N Feber (Bel); M Navarra (It) v D Rikl (Cz Rep).

Court 17

N Godwin (SA) v C Caratti (It); E Makarova (Rus) v K Studenikova (Slovak); M Joyce (US) v A Gaudenzi (It); K Nowak (Pol) v G Pizzichini (It).