GORAN Ivanisevic yesterday powered his way into his first Wimbledon final, sealing a 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Pete Sampras with his 169th ace of the tournament. Never will Andre Agassi's ability to return serve be more severely tested than in today's final.
In a battle of two big-serving 20- year-olds, rallies were as rare as orchids, and deuce was reached on only three occasions - twice in the opening three games, and both on the Sampras serve.
However, once the pair had adjusted the sights on their serving arms, the crowd on Court One sat politely applauding and waiting for the tie-breaks. Ivanisevic, the No 8 seed from Croatia, dished out 36 aces; Sampras, the No 5, answered with 13 of his own. 'He did not have any chance to break my serve,' Ivanisevic said. 'He could only beat me on a tie- break.'
The contest was played in a strangely muted atmosphere for a semi-final and for the first hour and three-quarters there was little respite from the crash-bang-wallop routine. Boring was a word on more than a few lips.
Sampras started the slower and was grateful for a series of good first serves once Ivanisevic, with two flashing forehands, one down the line, one cross-court, had earned two break points at 1-1 in the opening set. Once the American had escaped, only a further 10 points went against serve in the rest of the set.
Extraordinarily, the tie-break started with a rally, and the sight of it was as refreshing as the sunshine that periodically pierced the cloud cover.
The vital break came Sampras's way when he managed to steer a forehand cross-court return of serve to the Croatian's feet. Ivanisevic responded with his 10th ace, but Sampras took the set after another searing return produced a weak response from Ivanisevic, the American rolling a backhand pass to take the first set.
The second set followed a similar pattern; only 15 points against the serve, no break points and 10 more aces from Ivanisevic. One break in the second tie-break - a backhand cross-court return of serve - was enough for Ivanisevic to square the match.
A frisson of excitement settled over proceedings when Sampras was taken to deuce at 1-1 in the third set, but otherwise the pattern continued until the ninth game, when - sensationally in the context of the match - Ivanisevic broke the Sampras serve to love.
The first break of serve in the entire match had taken one hour and 46 minutes to materialise, and it was engineered courtesy of a double fault, a forehand down-the-line return of serve, a flashing forehand cross-court drive that Sampras could not control, and another forehand down-the-line return.
Instantly the match turned. Sampras's backhand finally wilted under the pressure, giving Ivanisevic the set with one weak effort, and once the gangling Croatian had broken him again in the first game of the fourth set.
Closing in for the kill, aces number 31, 32, and 33 gave Ivanisevic a 3-1 lead, and once another poor backhand from Sampras had surrendered his serve for a 5-2 deficit, it was all over.
All that was left for Ivanisevic was to beat his own record for aces at this Championship - the 33 he served in his quarter-final against Stefan Edberg - which he duly did, the last two points of the match coming from aces.
'He serves so big,' Sampras said. 'It got to the point where I had absolutely no idea where his serve was going. He's a frustrating guy to play, because you really can't get any rhythm.'
In contrast, Ivanisevic has never been in such consistent form. 'I never keep my mind as well, so long,' he said. 'I've got one more day to do that and then I can relax my mind.'
What of his bad back? 'I am serving a lot of aces so it is good. It is sore but I don't care. Final is final. With sore back or broken back you go in and that's it.'Reuse content