MaliVai is man of the moment

Stan Hey sees the first black player since 1975 to reach the men's final
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The Independent Online
The most turbulent men's singles championship in the history of Wimbledon produced a suitably bizarre outcome yesterday as two unseeded players, the American MaliVai Washington and the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, won through to the final for the first time in the tournament's history.

This was always a possibility with just one seed, Todd Martin, left in the semi-finals but some assertion of the usual orthodoxy had looked likely when Martin led Washington 5-1 in their final set, which had been held over until yesterday morning after Friday's wash-out had left them beached at two sets apiece.

Almost miraculously, however, Washington clawed back the deficit, surviving a match point on the way, then a heated dispute with the umpire over a line call, and finally a further interruption from the rain, before shouldering his way past Martin to win the crucial set 10-8. Washington therefore becomes the first African-American to contest a Wimbledon men's final since Arthur Ashe out-psyched Jimmy Connors in 1975.

"I was only six years old at the time, but I remember seeing the match point of the final," Washington remembered afterwards. "It's an honour to be the first since Arthur. If you watch great players, it inspires you. I just hope I can play well enough in the final to encourage more black kids into tennis."

Washington's heroic refusal to admit defeat suggests an alternative reading of his Presidential namesake's most famous line: "I cannot tell when to lie down."

Certainly his calm obstinacy was a complete contrast to Martin's increasingly nerve-wracked play. "I froze up," the 13th seed admitted later, before graciously playing tribute to Washington, his neighbour in Florida. They had embraced each other warmly at the end of the match and Martin revealed that he had said to Washington: "Now go and win it."

Washington was equally sporting, despite an attempted tabloid ambush over his use of the word "crap" in his row with the umpire in the 13th game, when the umpire had ordered a "let" after Martin's serve had been called out by the linesman. "I apologise if my language offended anyone. I don't even remember what I was saying," Washington insisted.

Washington's own response to the weather's interruption of the set, with Martin leading 7-6, was to further demoralise his compatriot with a love- game to draw level at 7-7. Martin responded in kind to lead, though he did not know it, for the last time, as Washington's gymnastic covering of the court enabled him to win the next three games, and a place in the final against an opponent he has never faced.

Krajicek's talents were all too obvious in his easy semi-final win over the Australian Jason Stoltenberg - a booming serve which delivered 15 aces, a heavy artillery of ground strokes and an increasing confidence in coming to the net behind his serve.

In its early stages, the match looked to be capable of gracing the dying days of Wimbledon's No 1 court, as Stoltenberg's finesse and Krajicek's raw power were locked in an elemental battle. They exchanged service breaks before Stoltenberg, serving at 5-6, double faulted on the first point and Krajicek pounced to take the set 7-5.

Two service breaks in the second set gave the 24-year-old Dutchman a 2-0 lead, and he then ripped through the Australian's failing resistance to take the third set 6-1.

Having dispatched two former champions, Michael Stich and Pete Sampras, Krajicek will be a clear favourite over Washington for today's final. But, of all the Wimbledon years, this is one to keep your betting money in your pocket.

Krajicek's quality, page 30