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.

Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
News
Stephen Hawking is reportedly taking steps to trademark his name
people
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Inside Sales Executive - Software & Hardware Automation

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This market leading hardware an...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen withi...

Recruitment Genius: CAD Technician - Structural Engineering

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are Consulting Str...

Recruitment Genius: Account Executive

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Account Executive is require...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor