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.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker