The Championships had absorbed the loss of leading players on previous days with a smile rather than a wince, knowing that surprises stimulate interest. But many hearts sank when Agassi, the 12th seed in the men's singles, fell, and Bates was unable to restore spirits on the Centre Court, losing his return contest against Guy Forget, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.
Agassi's defeat could hardly be described as a shock result. His year on the courts was delayed by wrist surgery, and he had played his way into form in his three previous matches, having for the most part experienced frustration on the clay of Monte Carlo, Rome and Paris. Martin, the runner-up to Pete Sampras at the Australian Open, had continued to make steady progress, his victory against Sampras on the grass of Queen's Club prompting a sixth seeding for Wimbledon.
There again, disappointment can be provoked by popularity as well as logic, and nobody in the sport comes within five sets of Agassi for crowd appeal. The problem is that many of his opponents are capable of beating him in five sets.
Martin, reinforced by Friday's epic against Martin Damm, succeeded in the fourth round where Nicolas Pereira had failed two rounds earlier. The Michigan giant responded to Agassi's stirring recovery from two sets down, winning 6-1 in the fifth after three hours and 14 minutes. His answer to the Bambi question? 'Some friends of mine in college called me Thumper.'
For the record, it was the fourth time in his career that Agassi had made a comeback from two sets down, and the fourth time he had failed to win the decider. Three of those matches have taken place in Grand Slam championships, and two of them at Wimbledon: in the quarter- finals a year ago, Sampras defeated him 6-4 in the fifth.
Martin secured a meeting with South Africa's Wayne Ferriera in the last eight, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7, 4-6, 6-1. Though the opening game suggested a protracted contest - Martin saved three break points before holding serve after nine minutes - the first two sets seemed to confirm that his serves, volleys and returns were too consistent for the 1992 champion.
A break in the fourth game was sufficient in the first set, and Agassi appeared to capitulate after Martin produced an ace to save himself from trailing 0-4 in the second set. As Martin opened up, even the Duchess of Kent saw reason to duck, the mis-hit smash landing safely wide of the Royal Box, the perpetrator waving an embarrassed apology.
When Agassi hit three double-faults from 40-15 to lose the opening game of the third set, he seemed to shrink even further into his baggy clothing and spectators sighed and sagged into their seats.
The sense of anti-climax was premature. The Las Vegan immediately recovered the break, and took a 3-1 lead as Martin tumbled, literally and figuratively. Broken when serving for the set at 5-4, Agassi again confounded doubters by winning the tie- break 7-0.
He broke for 4-3 in the fourth set, only to take his supporters through further agonies before levelling the match on his sixth set point.
Martin proceeded to bludgeon Agassi, allowing him only two points in the opening two games of the final set and threatening a whitewash after his bemused opponent directed a backhand volley wide at 0-5, 15-30. Agassi saved those two match points to salvage a game, but Martin then served out to love, securing the third match point with a half-volley.
'He just outplayed me in the fifth set,' Agassi said. 'I was confident I was in control, and all of a sudden he just picked up his level of play. When it slipped away, I think he kind of just said, 'I'd better just go for my shots and hope for the best'. He was taking huge chances on the return and on the groundstrokes and hitting lines and winners and aces.' In short, he was doing everything that Agassi was not.
'In the fifth,' Martin said, 'I regained my composure and didn't play any more loose games.' Nor did he allow himself to be affected by the roars of encouragement for his opponent. 'It's nice to have people rooting for you,' he said, 'but it's also nice to play a match once in a while when the crowd is not on your side. It's exciting to be challenged.'
Shortly after throwing one last shirt to the crowd, and bowing to the Duchess, who was the first to rise for the standing ovation, Agassi was off to catch Concorde. His attention was turning towards the United States Open at the end of August. Last year he was eliminated in the first round by Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, 6-2 in the fifth. . . after retrieving a two-set deficit.
Bates, attempting to become the first Briton to reach the last eight since Roger Taylor in 1973, raised hopes in the opening set, which he won in half an hour. Everything went downhill from there. 'The last three sets were some of the best tennis anybody has played against me,' he said. 'It was a case of watching passing shot after passing shot go by.
'The crowd was willing me on, and it was a shame I couldn't give them more to cheer about. I was beaten fair and square. The guy was coming up with shots from anywhere. I tried to vary things, but it didn't make any difference. By the end I'd run out of ideas.'
Forget's reward is a quarter-final against Goran Ivanisevic, who proved too strong for the Russian Alexander Volkov, winning, 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2.
Sergi Bruguera, whose victory against Patrick Rafter, 13-11 in the fifth, had been the most dramatic of the opening week, went out with a whimper. The French Open champion, seeded No 8, was defeated, 6-4, 7-6, 6-0, by Michael Chang, the 10th seed. Bruguera, who had two set points in the tie-break, lost the third set in 17 minutes.
Chang now plays Sampras, the defending champion having defeated Daniel Vacek, from the Czech Republic, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6; or 18 aces to 14.
Wimbledon reports, results,
Order of Play, page 39
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content