Football: Sampras performs to order: Simon O'Hagan reports on the men with the power to depose the champion

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The Independent Online
ON THE first day at Wimbledon since Monday that no men's seeds were beaten, Pete Sampras yesterday showed again that all is in order at the very top, while Boris Becker and Goran Ivanisevic suggested themselves as the most likely challengers to his crown.

Sampras and Ivanisevic are the only men left not to have dropped a set, and neither came anywhere near to doing so yesterday. Sampras, resuming overnight against his fellow- American Chuck Adams with a 6-1 5-1 lead, went on to to a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory that secured him a meeting with Daniel Vacek of Czechoslovakia. That promises to be even more serve-dominated than most matches here.

Ivanisevic, meanwhile, dropped only six points on his own serve as he cruised through against Israel's Amos Mansdorf 6-3 7-5 6-4 in one hour 25 minutes. Nobody has detained the Croatian for more than two hours yet, and if Ivanisevic serves as he did yesterday, Alexander Volkov, his next opponent, probably will not either. Volkov beat the German David Prinosil in straight sets.

The balls were really taking a pounding on Centre Court. Within a couple of hours of Markus Zoecke registering a record 134mph with his serving against Jeremy Bates, Ivanise

vic was managing 25 aces and 133mph. Conditions for such feats were perfect - still air, even light, and a crowd wanting plenty of thrills. 'I served OK,' Ivanisevic said, enjoying the understatement. 'When you serve like that, then I get confident for my returns because I know I'm going to win my serve pretty easily.'

Anybody actually wanting to watch tennis would have been advised to head for the No 1 court where Becker, though hardly a shrinking violet when it comes to wielding a racket, had a match with Javier Frana of Argentina which at least had some variety in it.

Frana, brought up on clay courts, was always likely to be overpowered, even by a Becker serving well below his best. But he produced some delightful touches, giving his opponent some troublesome moments before the three-times champion came through 7-6 6-4 1-6 6-3.

Asked whether he had a gut feeling that this could be his year - the tenth anniversary of his first appearance at the championships - Becker said: 'Well, the problem is that I've been having a very good feeling in my gut in the last couple of months, and it wasn't right. So I'd rather listen to my brain.'

Then the conversation turned to babies - this is Wimbledon, after all - and Becker recalled how he and Bates had played each other around the time they both became fathers at the turn of the year. 'We talked about that far more than we talked about the tennis.'

If Becker and Bates are to indulge in a bit of nappy talk over the net again, they could do so in the semi-finals. But some fairly unlikely things need to happen first, at least as far as Bates is concerned. And Becker's next match, against Andrei Medvedev, will be tricky if he continues to play at any level other than his best.

The last fourth-round tie to be decided will see Christian Bergstrom, of Sweden, a straight-sets winner against Jordi Burillo of Spain, take on the qualifer Bryan Shelton. After beating Michael Stich, Shelton has gone from strength to strength, recovering from two sets to one down yesterday to beat Jason Stoltenberg, the last Australian, 7-6 5-7 5-7 7-5 6-4.