Tennis: Wimbledon '99 - Andre to have his say on all-America day

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The Independent Online
I AM looking for Andre Agassi to celebrate the all-American men's final at Wimbledon this afternoon by beating his old rival Pete Sampras.

There were indications that Pete could struggle when Mark Philippoussis got hold of his serve in their brief quarter-final match and this is an area where Agassi's returning skills could bring him profit. Tim Henman's defeat yesterday was a disappointment, but again it came down to the Sampras ability and experience when it mattered. But if Sampras gives Agassi as many second serves as he offered Henman he will be in trouble, which is the main reason I am picking Agassi to repeat his 1992 Wimbledon triumph.

Not that the women have been completely overtaken. How could that happen when Steffi Graf is around in the final weekend, and also when you have two fresh new names in Jelena Dokic and Alexandra Stevenson, teenagers and also players who came through the qualifying tournament to earn a place in the main draw.

Wimbledon is always memorable, but seeing Henman do well once again ensured that it would be a great occasion. In my opinion we did not have all that many outstanding matches but we have had quite a few exciting ones, particularly Henman versus Jim Courier. Also the tournament benefited from Becker doing better than even he expected by getting into the second week.

Although Boris did not play well in his last match, it was fitting that he should have bowed out on Centre Court, when he could so easily have lost in the first round to Britain's Miles Maclagan, which would have been great for Miles but a terrible anti-climax for Boris.

The spectacular arrival on the Grand Slam scene of Dokic and Stevenson demonstrates the seemingly endless supply of highly talented girls these days. It has been really exciting to welcome two youngsters who are certain to become top stars, though that classic women's quarter-final between Steffi and Venus Williams showed there is still quite a way for them to go.

The weather has, I am afraid, again been a blooming nuisance but we have to face the fact that if we are going to have a tournament on grass and without a roof we are going to end up with disappointed players and annoyed spectators because grass is a difficult surface to maintain and get ready again for play after rain.

I notice that Sampras was not in favour of putting a roof over Centre Court or changing the tournament in any way. I suspect this is because every Grand Slam winner, man or woman, is most partial to the one they won. I am sure, for instance, that Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario would tell you how much she likes the French Open, where she has been champion three times. There comes a time when you have to think more about the spectators, as well as the players, and the fans were short-changed on three days in Wimbledon's second week. It is unfair that that should happen almost every year.

I could not let Wimbledon go by without a word of praise for the effort and intensity that Jim Courier has again brought to the tennis courts of Britain. Jim thoroughly deserved all the accolades for his performances in the Americans' victory over us in the Davis Cup at Easter and I hope the United States are not considering a change in their singles players for the quarter-final against Australia later this month just because Sampras is available.

If I were them I would be loath to change the winning singles pairing of Courier and Todd Martin, whether Sampras is in the squad or not - and I hear he says he wants to play doubles only. Certainly, if I were Courier I would be deeply ticked off if I were dropped for the singles after those heroics in Birmingham.

As for our own prospects at Davis Cup and Grand Slam level, Wimbledon has again shown how much we rely on Henman and Greg Rusedski. When you look at our other hopes, there is revealed an alarming lack of depth. And this will be worsened because our two best second-line men, Chris Wilkinson and Danny Sapsford, have now retired. Even though Maclagan was an early loser, at least he went out to a grass-court specialist in Becker and it is to be hoped that he will use the experience as an example of how he might do well on other surfaces. He was brilliant against one of the great grass-court players of our time. Miles could now develop into Britain's third singles player to take the strain if needs be.

When you think of the money that has been spent over the years by the Lawn Tennis Association it is bitterly disappointing that we have produced only one home-grown player in Henman, and even he only became involved with the LTA after he was 16.

John Lloyd was talking to Ronald Atkin

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