Tennis: Wimbledon '99 - Anna the mania event

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The Independent Online
THE CROWD reaction said it all. First an Ooh, then an Aah, before the inevit-able Oh... "Can I have your attention please?" purred the now familiar voice of Chris Gorringe over the Tannoy. "John McEnroe and Steffi Graf have withdrawn from the mixed doubles event." You could have heard a strawberry drop.

The mixed doubles may not, as Lindsay Davenport made clear by withdrawing on Friday afternoon, be the main priority for most players, but there was an extra incentive for the pairs this year. The Mac and Steffi Show was in town and there could be few competitors who were not relishing the chance of playing against them at some stage. Or perhaps it was the lure of a first Wimbledon title that provided the spur. Either way, Anna Kournikova and Jonas Bjorkman were in determined mood as they faced Rick Leach and Lisa Neiland in the quarter-finals of the event.

The third seeds took the tight first set 8-6 in the tie-break and, despite conceding the second 6-4, rallied well to take the third 6-3. Their victory had originally assured them of a semi-final clash with M & S, but the vaunted pair withdrew from the event because Graf was anxious not to aggravate a thigh injury she sustained during the mixed doubles quarter- final on Friday.

The announcement was something of a surprise as Graf had earlier insisted the strapping on her leg was only a precaution and that she was looking forward to playing. Maybe the sight of McEnroe still dressed in his suit while commentating for the American television station NBC should have set the alarm bells ringing. There will unfortunately be no more tricks from these two magicians of the court, and the withdrawal means Kournikova and Bjorkman are in the final. Anna need no longer worry. She will be the only star of the show.

The withdrawal aside, yesterday was a success with the fans. The rain delays of the past week provided the opportunity of seeing rather more tennis than would normally be expected on the second Saturday of the Championships. Away from Centre Court and all the predictable national fervour, many of the outside courts were playing host to a number of exciting matches.

On Court Three, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes justified their position as the No 1 men's doubles pair in the world by defeating Olivier Delaitre and Fabrice Santoro of France, 2-6 6-3 7-6 4-6 7-5 in an engrossing semi- final. They will face Paul Haarhuis and Jared Palmer in the final, after the eighth seeds beat Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, 3-6 7-5 7-6 4-6 8-6.

It was also an opportunity to watch some older favourites, such as the former British No 1 and fourth-round loser at Wimbledon, Jeremy Bates, and his partner Ramesh Krishnan lost in three sets to John Fitzgerald and Jelena Dokic's new coach, Wally Masur. It means there are no more home-grown elders left at the Championships.

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