Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Sun smiles on swear and tear of modern era: Sampras establishes his credibility as the world No 1 in fascinating but sometimes distasteful championships

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The Independent Online
JUDGING by the hearty cheer which greeted the Wimbledon referee, Alan Mills, when he was introduced to the Centre Court crowd after the men's singles final on Sunday, some spectators may have thought that he made the sunshine which gave us the first uninterrupted championships since 1977.

Over the years, Mills has had to contend with a catalogue of scheduling difficulties caused by dreadful weather during the annual fortnight; indeed, the one-off 'Super Sunday' in rain-lashed 1991 was his idea.

The portents for this year's Wimbledon were not encouraging as Mills carried out other refereeing engagements in exotic locations. In Key Biscayne, Florida, in March, a hurricane almost wrecked the site of the Lipton Championships, and Mills was relieved that the tournament finished on time.

He was not so fortunate at the Monte Carlo Open in April, when rain caused the final to be postponed until the Monday. When Sergi Bruguera defeated Cedric Pioline in a damp finale, few observers realised that the French Open champion was in the making.

When it came to the Big W, the weather could not have been kinder to Mills, and everybody responsible for running the championships, though the heat seemed to affect the behaviour of several male competitors.

An outbreak of swearing marred some performances, and Jim Courier, the runner-up to Pete Sampras, his American compatriot, was fortunate to survive the middle Saturday. Defeated in the third round by the Russian Andrei Olhovskiy when seeded No 1 last year, Courier's expletives would have done for him at the same stage this time had not Mills overruled the umpire, Jeremy Shales.

Sampras added insult to his shoulder injury after defeating Andrew Foster, one of an encouraging number of Britons showing signs of making progress, in the fourth round. Whatever Sampras said to the spectators before departing Court 14, his version - 'Thank you very much, God bless, hasta la vista' - deserves high marks for originality.

Patrick McEnroe would have won a talent contest for his impersonation of his older brother in full cry, particularly as John's comments this year were confined to commentary for American television.

Fines ranging from dollars 500 to dollars 1,500 would not do justice to a swear box in a parish hall, let alone damage the finances of millionaire sportsmen. Ian Peacock, the chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, was not alone in advocating the deduction of points on the court.

Tennis differs from many spectator sports in that silence is requested while play is in progress, plus the fact that television microphones are placed in strategic positions and pick up the flak. Industrious players frequently do use industrial language.

Spitting on the court and during change-overs is another habit which needs to be discouraged. It might help if offenders were shown a video recording of their actions.

Though it was a distasteful Wimbledon in those respects, it was fascinating in others. While opinion seems to be divided about the standard of play in the men's tournament, there is a consensus that the women were treated more than generously in receiving pounds 1,203,060 for their 100th singles event, compared with pounds 1,449,960 for their male counterparts, and should think again before agitating for parity.

The debate about the speed and power in the men's game, which is most evident on grass courts and fast indoor carpets, was raised again. The combination of modern racket technology and the height, strength and fitness of the competitors conspires to make points short, and not often sweet.

It was noticeable how the criticism increased after the departure of Andre Agassi, the sport's outstanding personality. Not only does Agassi bring showmanship to a tournament, not to mention Barbra Streisand, but it was he who, a year ago, temporarily reversed the trend towards service domination by defeating the ace man, Goran Ivanisevic, with counter- punches to win the title.

Agassi, with his truncated 'tomahawk chop' service action, was remarkably spry for one who had hardly played for two months as a result of a wrist injury. He was moving along nicely until encountering Sampras's serves and volleys in the quarter- finals.

Sampras, who extinguished Boris Becker's fire in the semi-finals, then muffled Courier's ground-strokes with superior serving. His success ended the argument about his credibilty as the world No 1, the prestige of the title far out-weighing the fact that his victory made him the first player ever to accumulate more than 4,000 points (4,197) on the IBM/ATP Tour rankings computer.

Some were disturbed by the nature of the final, regarding it as another depressing example of cordite tennis. They may have a point. Athleticism has overwhelmed aestheticism in most sports, and tennis is no exception, though it is impossible to imagine the flowing Sampras cast in the role of Popeye's rival, Bluto.

Jana Novotna would have settled for just one of Sampras's second serves when leading Steffi Graf, the defending champion and world No 1, 4-1, 40-30 in the final set of the women's final. Wimbledon '93 will be unforgettable if for no other reason than Novotna's loss of nerve, her tears in defeat, and the comforting shoulder of the Duchess of Kent.

There were also the two Czech-born Martinas losing in semi-finals: Navratilova, aged 36, in the main event, and Hingis, aged 12, in the juniors. Who will retire first is hard to tell.

British players justified the wild cards which gained them access to the tournament, the first week being punctuated by home gains all over the grounds.

Chris Bailey, from Norwich, whose career has been interrupted by injuries, came within the flick of a netcord and a gutsy second service ace of defeating Ivanisevic on the Centre Court in the most thrilling match of the tournament.

Though Bailey lost the second- round match, 9-7 in the fifth set, the legacy of his effort could be immense. British juniors, and countless youngsters who had not previously been inclined to lift a racket, surely will have been inspired by the performance and the atmosphere it generated to think: 'I want some of that.'

With luck, and good management, the LTA's junior development programme will be loaded with aspiring talent in the months ahead; though we hoped that would be the case after Agassi's show-stopper last year.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WIMBLEDON '93 RECORDS ----------------------------------------------------------------- MEN'S SINGLES ----------------------------------------------------------------- Longest match (games): 64 Goran Ivanisevic (Croa) bt Chris Bailey (GB) 5-7 7-6 6-7 6-4 9-7 2nd rd. Longest match (time): 4hr 22min David Wheaton (US) bt Michael Chang (US) 3rd rd. Shortest match (games): 22 Petr Korda (Cz Rep) bt Martin Strelba (Cz Rep) 6-1 6-2 6-1 1st rd. Shortest match (time): 1hr 5min Petr Korda (Cz Rep) bt Martin Strelba (Cz Rep) 1st rd. Longest sets (games): 10-8 Sebastien Lareau (Can) v Jonas Svensson (Swe) 1st rd; Jakob Hlasek (Swit) v Mark Petchey (GB) 2nd rd. Longest tie-breaks (points): 12-10 MaliVai Washington (US) v Aaron Krickstein (US) 2nd rd; Neil Borwick (Aus) v Pete Sampras (US) 1st rd. Shortest tie-break (points): 7-1 Jim Courier (US) v Ronald Agenor (Haiti) 2nd rd. Fastest recorded serve: Michael Stich (Ger) 128 mph. ----------------------------------------------------------------- WOMEN'S SINGLES ----------------------------------------------------------------- Longest match (games): 43 Nicole Arendt (US) bt Isabelle Demongeot (Fr) 2-6 6-3 14-12 in 1st rd. Longest match (time): 2hr 54min Nicole Arendt (US) bt Isabelle Demongeot (Fr) 1st rd. Whitewashes: Steffi Graf (Ger) bt Kirrily Sharpe (Aus) 1st rd and bt Helen Kelesi (Can) 3rd rd; Pascale Paradis-Mangon (Fr) bt Katerina Kroupova (Cz Rep) 2nd rd. Shortest match (time): 35 min Steffi Graf (Ger) bt Helen Kelesi (Can) 3rd rd. Longest set (games): 14-12 Nicole Arendt (US) v Isabelle Demongeot (Fr) 1st rd. Longest tie-break (points): 11-9 Anke Huber (Ger) v Cecilia Dahlman (Swe) 1st rd. Shortest tie-breaks (points): 7-0 Steffi Graf (Ger) v Conchita Martinez (Sp) semi-final; Helena Sukova (Cz Rep) v Natalia Baudone (It) 1st rd. Fastest recorded serves: Jana Novotna (Cz Rep) and Brenda Schultz (Neth) 115 mph. -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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