Krajicek finds the power to brush aside Washington

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The Independent Online
JOHN ROBERTS

Tennis Correspondent

The most bizarre Wimbledon imaginable eventually produced a men's singles champion from a classic mould. Richard Krajicek may have been unseeded, but, like Boris Becker in 1985, he cut an imposing figure with a mighty serve, a compact volley and a healthy disdain for the opposition's attempts to find a way past him.

Krajicek, a 24-year-old from Rotterdam, became the first Dutchman to win a Grand Slam singles title and only the second player since Becker to win the world's most prestigious tournament without a seeding.

It was inevitable that one man would share that distinction with Becker as soon as yesterday's finalists were known, for MaliVai Washington had eliminated his American compatriot Todd Martin, at No 13 the only seed left in the tournament.

Washington, the first black finalist since Arthur Ashe defeated Jimmy Connors in 1975, was unable to cope with the power and consistency of Krajicek's serves or his returns, the Dutchman winning, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.

The son of Czech immigrants certainly lived up to his nickname, "Crackerjack", firing 14 aces and bombarding his opponent with variety of other shots from a formidable arsenal.

It would all have been over in a flash, but the streaker who caused a sensation by running on the court while the players posed for photographers at the net before play commenced had the best of the day's weather.

A match which lasted only an hour and 34 minutes was stretched over four hours by rain delays - but, then, why change the habits of the fortnight?

Krajicek, ranked No 13 in the world, was a seeded player in everything but name. Drawn initially as a possible opponent for Pete Sampras in the fourth round, he met, and eliminated, the three-times champion one round later after being switched in the draw to fill the vacancy left by the injury to the No 7 seed, Thomas Muster.

Washington, ranked No 20, made the most of the hole left in the bottom half of the draw by a freak injury to Becker's wrist in his third-round match against the South African Neville Godwin.

Although disappointed with the outcome of the final, Washington was not downcast. "The whole experience of being here, and especially doing as well as I did, playing for a beautiful cup, is tough to put it into words," he said. "It's what you dream about, and my dream almost came true.''

Washington had only two points to his name after losing the opening three games and was allowed only three points off Krajicek's serve in the whole of the first set.

The Dutchman, whose improved service returns startled Michael Stich in the fourth round and Sampras in the quarter-finals, undermined Washington's deliveries at the first opportunity. He broke for 2-0 with a forehand response driven with such power that the American was unable to control his first volley and directed the ball beyond the baseline.

Washington came close to being broken a second time after double-faulting in the fourth game. He rescued himself with an ace, and saved two more break points with service winners.

Such was the superiority of Krajicek's serve that it came as something of a surprise that his initial ace did not come until as late as the fifth game. It created two game points, a double-fault costing him the first and Washington questioning the validity of an ace off a second serve which converted the second.

When the Dutchman served the set out to love after 33 minutes, finishing with a backhand volley, it seemed that only the gathering of ominous clouds would be able to save Washington from a summary execution.

The first interruption came after 43 minutes, at 1-1 and deuce with Washington serving. The players spent 33 minutes in the locker room before returning for four minutes, just enough time for Washington to hold serve and Krajicek to follow suite for 2-2.

Play resumed a second time after 41 minutes, Washington managing to take Krajicek to deuce for the first time, in the sixth game. Three games later, the American was broken to love for 5-4, paying the price for feeding Krajicek's fierce forehand.

Ironically, after presenting his opponent with three opportunities at 0-40 by serving to the forehand, Washington saved two of the break points by hitting winning deliveries to the backhand. He switched tack again on the third, and Krajicek swept the ball past him.

The Dutchman served out the set on his second opportunity with a simple tap over the net after opening the court with his serve, which cost him only eight points in the set.

Washington barely had time to open what proved to be the final set by holding serve to love when rain interrupted proceedings for the third and last occasion. The players had 67 minutes to ponder what had gone before, and Washington must have experienced a sense of deja vu when broken to love in the third game, again directing a serve to Krajicek's forehand.

When the Dutchman continued a spree of 14 consecutive points to break again for 4-1 with an emphatic forehand down the line, the contest seemed over. But Washington's pride and fighting spirit generated a few moments of hope.

Having created his only break points of the match to put Krajicek at 0-40 in the sixth game, returning with the kind of verve his opponent had displayed throughout, he converted the second opportunity, pouncing on a serve and luring the Dutchman into hitting a backhand over the baseline.

Washington must have believed that anything was possible after seeing his compatriot Martin lose a 5-1 lead in the fifth set of their semi-final, and the excitement began to rise when he held for 3-4.

Krajicek was in no mood to be further delayed, let alone denied. He dropped only on his serve to hold for 5-3, and cracked Washington's resistance in the next game. The American saved one match point, Krajicek netting a forehand at 15-40, but the Dutchman hit an unstoppable forehand drive on the second and celebrated by rolling on the grass like the world's biggest and happiest puppy.

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