Tennis: Wimbledon '93 / Sampras and Courier declare independence: Experience is not enough for former champions Becker and Edberg as American pair make it through to a final on the 4th of July

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The Independent Online
THE FOURTH of July will be marked tomorrow by the sight of two Americans duelling for their first Wimbledon title in their first final. Pete Sampras, the top seed, and Jim Courier, the man he supplanted as the world No 1, will bring a contrast of styles to the Centre Court as appetising as Andre Agassi versus Goran Ivanisevic a year ago.

Last time the Stars and Stripes ruled was in 1984, when John McEnroe, at his peak, wrecked Jimmy Connors' defences for the loss of only four games. Whether Sampras can breach Courier so effectively is highly doubtful.

Though the lean Californian took advantage of Boris Becker's serving errors to defeat the three-times champion, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, his victory was no more impressive than the way Courier, the 'attacking ground-stroker' from Florida, dealt with Stefan Edberg, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, in the second of yesterday's semi-finals.

'The Yanks are here, for Pete's sake,' a banner proclaimed. In no time they were also there for Jim, rejoicing as he recovered from a set and 2-0 in arrears to savage the Swedish second seed almost every time he missed a first serve.

By the finish, Courier was looking as strong and confident as he was when defeating Edberg in four sets in the final of the Australian Open in January. Moreover, he has begun to regard the grass with less suspicion, delighted that the court has firmed under the sun to produce bounces almost as even as those which sustain his game on the slower surfaces.

'It's like the first time I reached the French Open final (1991),' he said. 'I've been in other Grand Slam finals since, and they didn't feel new to me, but this one is different, I guess because I'm just surprised more than anything else. I thought I'd be playing golf on Sunday afternoon.'

Courier, who was saved from disqualification by the intervention of the referee last Saturday, was heard to use another expletive after being broken when serving for the second set. Asked if his parents would be proud of him, having advanced to the final in such a controversial manner, he said: 'I think my parents are proud. Nobody's perfect in this world, if we were it would be pretty boring.'

Pressed on the matter, he rounded on the questioner, saying: 'What do you want me to say? Are you perfect? Don't ask any questions. Keep your mouth shut, all right?' Told not to be abusive, Courier said: 'I've already said I was sorry that I did it. Do you have anything else to say? We can have a one-on-one interview if you like.'

Courier and Sampras, who upset spectators on Court 14 with an outburst after his fourth-round match against Britain's Andrew Foster, are most effective when they allow their rackets to express their emotions by winning points. Apart from Courier's one slip of the tongue yesterday, the Americans were eloquent in everything they did.

Sampras, it must be emphasised, was helped by Becker's 12 double faults, many of them on crucial points. None the less, the former United States Open champion goes into the final with the confidence of defeating champions in consecutive matches, his win against Becker following his five-set victory against Agassi. If he needs an omen, since 1988 the player who has eliminated Becker has lifted the trophy.

Fred Perry, who tipped Sampras as a future Wimbledon champion after watching him win his first title in Philadelphia in 1990, was impressed by his performance. 'He's like Gonzalez,' Perry said, 'he moves like oil. You don't hear him. You only hear the guy who's losing. The problem with this kid for a long time was that he didn't realise that when you have the other guy at break point you get the ball over the net and inside the line. You don't take fliers. He's learned the backhand block return, and you can't play on grass without it.'

Becker, Perry added, 'was up in the Alps somewhere'. While historians endeavoured to check if requests by the umpire, Wayne McKewen, for spectators to turn off mobile telephones was a first for the Centre Court, Becker tried to reverse the American's charges.

The German saved a set point in the 12th game, compensating for two double faults with a backhand volley and a service winner to make it to the tie-break. Sampras was not too disappointed about this. He had won five out of six shoot-outs in their previous matches, and when Becker steered a backhand volley over the baseline from a solid return at 3-3, the American knew the set was his.

Becker was presented with his first break point in the second game of the second set, when Sampras was so startled at being foot-faulted that he missed his second serve. A service winner took care of that, and Becker double-faulted three times in the next game to lose his serve.

'That's too much in a semi-final,' Becker said. 'I didn't have the best timing on my serve. I think my legs were the problem. I didn't get up to my serve. The legs were not as strong as they were in the last couple of matches, and that's why I served so many double faults.'

There were instances when Becker was convinced that he had timed his serve to perfection, and still the ball was called out. He became so perturbed in the fifth game of the second set that he protested to the umpire.

Sampras continued to strike the cleaner shots. He smudged a line with a backhand volley to save a second break point at 4-3, and kept his nerve to save two more with impressive volleys when serving for the set at 5-4.

Had Becker been given a glimmer of hope then, he might have raised his spirits. There was also the possibility that a sudden set-back could have started Sampras thinking that his shoulder was giving him gyp again. Any fears for Sampras passed when Becker double-faulted to lose the opening game of the third set. The American's progress continued smoothly until he served at 5-4 for a place in the final. Becker, desperate to keep the door from closing on him, created two break points.

The first, from a service return down the line, evaporated when Becker played his next return over the baseline. The second, from an angled backhand return, was swallowed by a backhand volley. Sampras then steadied himself and secured the match with two volleys.

His parting shot after raising his arms in delight was to lob a ball into the crowd. It landed in the Royal Box. An officer in full dress uniform played ball-boy. As far as one is aware, the American's action does not constitute a breach of protocol.

Novotna's test,

Sampras tunes up, page 55

(Photograph omitted)