The fastest gun in SW19 had lost his spirit and could see little point in prolonging the duel with Pete Sampras, the concluding set vanishing in 20 minutes to leave us with an unusual score: 7-6, 7-6, 6-0.
Last time a Wimbledon men's singles final ended with a 6-0 set was in 1936, Fred Perry's parting shot before turning professional and leaving a large hole in the British game. His German opponent, Baron Gottfried Von Cramm, hurt an ankle in the opening game, which accounts for the score, 6-1, 6-1, 6-0, in 40 minutes.
Though Perry faced some heavy artillery in his time, notably from Ellsworth Vines, it is doubtful that the game came even close to the annual bombardment of the lawns these days. The evolution of man and technology has seen to that.
'If things go on like this,' the 85-year-old Perry said yesterday, mulling over the problem of shielding against the rockets, 'we'll end up with a racket shaped like a plastic tray which can be moved from one side of the service line to the other.'
Trays certainly came in handy yesterday, especially during the opening sets, when the need for refreshmant was acute even though the heat was not accompanied by the humidity of Saturday. Power dominated, just as it did a year earlier, when Sampras first won the title after securing a couple of tie-breaks against his compatriot, Jim Courier.
The difference on this occasion was that both players serve so efficiently that it was a question of waiting for a telling response from the opposite side of the net, or for somebody's delivieries to break down. In short - like the majority of the points - it was the type of final we expected.
Sampras, by far the more consistent and accomplished performer, cannot help being so much better than every other player that Ivanisevic's promotion to No 2 on the computer today still leaves him in the position of a finisher entering a stadium while the winner is doing a lap of honour.
The American conceeded only one set in his seven matches, and he was two sets to the good in the semi-final against his compratiot, Todd Martin, when that occurred.
Ivanisevic's frustration and disappointment was understandable. Two years ago, when the All England Club was rocked by his 206 aces, he served 37 against Andre Agassi, the bouncy baseliner, and missed the title by a couple of points over five sets.
On that occasion, the Croat's manager, Ion Tiriac, suggested that Agassi should be employed by Nasa, as he had defied the laws of ballistics. Yesterday, he revised his opinion. 'I think Goran lost the final two years ago,' he said, 'but he was beaten today.'
Sampras's service was backed by such smart movement about the court that Ivanisevic glimpsed a break point but twice. On the first occasion, at 5-5 in the opening set, the left-hander nullified what he had gleaned from one backhand return by misdirecting a second over the baseline.
By this time, Sampras had seen four break points blown away, two in the fourth game (by an ace and a service-winner), two more in the 10th game (four aces in the concluding five points). The American took control of the first tie- break by attacking Ivanisevic's serve, provoking the Croat to hit two backhands long, and served out the final points for 7-2.
Ivanisevic next saw daylight between Sampras and his serve in the fourth game of the second set, cracking a backhand return off a second delivery. He then played a backhand into the net in response to a high backhand volley.
This, incidentally, was the first ace-free game. Ivanisevic hit 25, bringing his his total for the tournament to 164; Sampras added 17 to the 100 from his six previous matches. So accustomed had the linesmen become to balls flashing through that Sampras began to fret that they were failing to see some which had missed the target. He had a few animated conversations with the umpire early in this set before reverting to hitting the lines with greater frequency than his opponent.
Ivanisevic double-faulted to present two break points at 4-4. On the first, Sampras misjudged a backhand volley, which landed on the baseline, and an ace snatched away the second opportunity.
Sampras tossed his racket in the air when the Croat's 24th ace was allowed to stand in the 11th game, but his concentration was flawless as he produced the decisive shots to edge the second tie-break, 7-5.
'When you lose two sets 7-6, you don't feel so great,' Ivanisevic said, a masterpiece of understatement. 'You have to hit all the first serves, all the good volleys. It is not easy to keep that level. Then you crack a little bit.'
His heart sank when he was broken to love in the second game of the third set, Sampras almost mocking much of what had gone before by playing a gentle half-volley on break point. Ivanisevic won only six of the remaining points.
Sampras offered no argument on that score. 'I really couldn't play any better today,' he said.
There was more variety at the conclusion than during the match. Sampras tossed his racket high into the crowd at one side, Ivanisevic followed suit at the other side, and both players threw shirts to spectators, as if to show that Agassi was not forgotten.
It has been a wonderful Wimbledon, but everybody remembers the last act of any drama, and the yesterday's percussion could not match the passion of Saturday's women's final, which even lasted four minutes longer (one hour, 59 minutes). A case, perhaps, of after the Lady Mayoress's Show.
----------------------------------------------------------------- MATCH STATISTICS ----------------------------------------------------------------- SAMPRAS IVANISEVIC 1st serves in (per cent) 50 62 2nd serves in (per cent) 90 85 Service winners 54 44 Aces 17 25 Double faults 5 6 Forehand pts won 23 21 Backhand pts won 53 42 1st serve ave (mph) 116 119 1st serve max (mph) 127 129 2nd serve ave (mph) 99 99 2nd serve max (mph) 108 106 Pts won at net 22 18 Pts won at baseline 32 13 Total pts won 118 88 Game pts won 15 12 Break pts won 3 0 -----------------------------------------------------------------
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