Tennis: Wimbledon '97 - Pioline puffs to keep pace with Pete

Richard Edmondson witnesses a one-sided competition set before a Centre Court crowd with a penchant for the clinical finish

There was a continental feel to the men's final yesterday, and it was not all down to the presence of Cedric Pioline. It was more the crowd.

There was never a shred in their reaction to suggest this was an audience expecting a particularly well-contested duel to be thrown before them. These spectators were the latter-day equivalents of the harridans who collected at the base of madame guillotine to watch an aristocratic head bobble into the wickerwork, or the sort of crowd who might attend a corrida. There was a sense of inevitability about Pete Sampras's victory and what the cognoscenti required of him was a quick and clinical kill, involving the minimum of suffering to the chosen victim.

Cedric, which is the sort of name you find in the potting shed, was the first Frenchman since Yvon Petra, which is the sort of name you normally find in the other locker-room, to contest a Wimbledon final. His tennis career is a testament to the skills of a surgeon who had to operate to make one of his legs shorter than its true length. At times yesterday Pioline was made to look as impotent as Long John Silver.

The British sporting aficionado has become used to enigmatic Frenchmen dominating the field of play and immediate confirmation of Pioline's supposed capriciousness emerged. In front of his wife Miereille, who was making her first visit to England, he double-faulted on the first point and followed that up with an ace.

The body language, however, did not quite carry the same conviction as earlier in the tournament. Pioline had returned more impressively than Lazarus against Rusedski and Stich in previous rounds, but here he was swatting blindly at 130mph-plus serves. In addition, the first volley, which was formerly his greatest ally, had defected.

In the Royal Box, Jack Kramer, who won this title 50 years ago, must have been bewildered by the ballistics going on beneath him. Nearby, Ken Rosewall, too, would have been baffled by the modern power game, especially so as his serve could have landed in a trifle without making much mess.

Sampras, by his own observation, has never served as well in his life. The American has played beautifully all fortnight, but has been lurking in the bullrushes as the good ship Britannia has taken all the interest with her.

It is one of Sampras's greatest skills than he shuts out the extraneous jumble of a match that confuses others. Yesterday both he and Pioline made no drama out of the court condition. This was no light feat as the ball occasionally popped out of earthy areas like a golf ball dropped on tarmac.

Sampras's victory puts him level in the Grand Slam ladder with Bill Tilden on 10, one behind Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg and two behind Roy Emerson, and if he beats the Australian's record in these increasingly competitive times it will take a shrewd debater to refute he is the greatest player we have ever seen.

Still, that will not be enough for some. Sampras's unswerving concentration on court is criticised by those who also like their champions to be Rhodes scholars with a tinge of laddish humour, an amalgam of Einstein and Tarby.

"I know I'm not David Letterman when it comes to interviews but the way I am on court is the way I've been all my life," he said. "And it's the way I'll continue to be."

Sampras trundled through Wimbledon '97 as relentlessly as a logging machine in the forest. There were some sequoia moments from Pioline yesterday but he, like the rest, was eventually chewed up. At contest's end yesterday, the winner simply held his hands aloft, punched his heart and then blew a kiss to an occupant of the guests' box. He spoke briefly to Pioline and probably apologised. In the seats, someone suggested a beer match might be appropriate.

The summery pastels in the crowd cheered the victor's lap of honour. Then there was also prolonged applause for a circuit from Pioline. After just one hour and 34 minutes of predictable action there was still a lot of nervous tension to be dispersed.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power