Tennis: Boom time for `Scud'

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The Independent Online
She is by no means a Martina Hingis, but gratitude is expressed to Cheam's own Amy Kavanagh for helping to bring a touch of light relief to boom time at Barons Court yesterday.

The 14-year-old ballgirl, who returns to her French studies at Nonsuch High School today, reluctantly agreed to lend Goran Ivanisevic a hand as the twice Wimbledon runner-up struggled to read the mighty serves of Mark "Scud" Philippoussis during the final of the Stella Artois Championships.

The third seed Ivanisevic, for once, was on the receiving end, game after game, and after failing to intercept a second serve by the 20-year-old Australian to go down 0-40 at 3-3 in the second set, he handed his racket to Amy.

At first, she refused. "I was very, very scared," she said. "I play netball and swim a bit, but I don't play a lot of tennis and I was afraid I would miss the ball on television and everybody would laugh.''

She was also worried that she might be hit by "one of those thunderbolts" from Philippoussis's racket, which have been timed at 142mph. But Ivanisevic implored her, and up she stepped.

Philippoussis served a dolly drop, and Amy found herself playing the longest rally of the afternoon - 17 shots, if one counts two headers by the No 6 seed and his volley into the net, Alan Shearer style.

The interlude caused Philippoussis to experience a temporary lapse of concentration, and he lost the next two points, double-faulting and netting a volley, before taking a 4-3 lead with one of his 15 aces.

Philippoussis was asked if he thought Ivanisevic had used the antic as a deliberate ploy to upset his rhythm. "No, he always does something funny," the Australian said. "I thought it was great for the crowd. I was just disappointed with myself for losing my concentration and double-faulting.''

The fun was followed by the genuine longest rally of the match, Ivanisevic missing with a forehand down the line on the ninth shot to be broken for 5-3. Philippoussis served out the match, finishing with another service winner on a second serve, to clinch his first ever grass-court title, 7-5, 6-3, winning pounds 48,485.

It was all over after 53 minutes, most of which seemed to drag simply because of the monotony of big serving with so little in return.

In some respects, the match represented Wimbledon's worst nightmare - two giants (both 6ft 4in) hammering serves with such accuracy that the points appeared to merge into a blur.

Ivanisevic had warned beforehand that people should expect a afternoon "of missiles", and so it was, with "Scud" at one end and thud at the other. At one point Concorde flew overhead, mercifully sub-sonic.

"When guys like me and Mark are playing on grass you expect not to see too many rallies," Ivanisevic said. "You expect to see aces. A lot of the people who come here know why they're here - they come on Sunday afternoon and they hope the TV [camera] sees them.''

Ivanisevic pointed out that the general play was similar to Saturday's semi-final, in which the Croat had defeated Britain's Greg Rusedski, 4- 6, 6-4, 7-6, except that the tie-break had created moments worth waiting all week to see. Ivanisevic won the shoot-out, 20-18 on his eighth match point, after saving six.

Not one break point came Ivanisevic's way yesterday. In fact he gleaned only one point on the 30 occasions he managed to return Philippoussis's first serve.

The Australian's performance was vaguely reminiscent of the 17-year-old Boris Becker, who went on to win Wimbledon after defeating Johan Kriek in the Stella final in 1985.

Kriek said at the time that Becker could win Wimbledon if he continued to play the way he did at Queen's that week. How did Ivanisevic rate Philippoussis's Wimbledon prospects? "Mark can cause a lot of damage. He can be very dangerous," he said. "But I think it's impossible to play seven matches like that at Wimbledon over the best of five sets.'' And what of his own chances? "I can also be dangerous - but I don't know for what.''

He praised his partner, Amy's, contribution. "She won the point, and that's as close as I got. If I play Mark at Wimbledon, I might take her along.''

Results, Digest, Page 19