Injury halts Malisse to give Ancic easy passage

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The Independent Online

Mario Ancic was unaware, in his post-match interview after beating Xavier Malisse yesterday, whether his quarter-final opponent would be Tim Henman or Mark Philippoussis. Not that the 20-year-old Croatian seemed unduly concerned either way. He has Goran Ivanisevic on his side and he's not afraid to use him.

"Many kids in Croatia, like me, picked up a racket because of Goran," he said. "He was not only a big tennis person, he was such a character that everybody adored him. The guy had a lot of influence on all of us.

"He sent me a text message to say good luck before my match today. I'll talk to him before my next match. He's a great guy. We'll speak. It doesn't matter whether it's about tennis or something else. We'll just speak about whatever."

It seems harsh to report that Malisse, a semi-finalist two years ago, lay down for Ancic. But he did, literally, although his descent to the grass in the second set, caused by a recurrent lower-back injury, was more of a crumple. After unsuccessful treatment on the court, he was forced to retire. Ancic was leading 7-5, 3-1 at the time.

"It's not nice when somebody has to retire," said Ancic. "But I think if he, not me, had been leading by a set and a break, that for sure he would have continued. So in that I take credit. I think I played a pretty good first set. I was a break down and I started playing better, broke him, broke him again for 6-5. I think I was playing pretty good. It's bad luck for him. It's confidence for me."

Ancic's first two matches of the tournament had been tougher affairs, a four-setter won from behind and a five-setter won from behind before a relatively straight-forward win over Dominik Hrbaty earned the tie with Malisse. "It's getting better from match to match," he said.

Asked before the conclusion of last night's Henman-Philippoussis match whether he was confident of coping with a partisan crowd if he faced Henman, the world No 63 said: "Of course there's going to be a lot of support on his side. English people have been waiting a long time for him to win it.

"But it's just one of the areas you have to deal with in tennis. You have to deal with the crowd and be focused on the tennis."

Croatian tennis, with the progress of Ancic and compatriot Ivo Karlovic to this year's last 16 here, is in rude health. Never before in the open era have two Croatians made the fourth round in the same Grand Slam. Karolina Sprem's advance to the quarter-finals of the women's singles has also been another plus.

Simply by reaching yesterday's match, Ancic had equalled his best Grand Slam performance, having reached the same stage at the Australian Open last year. His next assignment takes him into new territory, although results this year have suggested an advance was coming.

He reached his first tour semi-final and final in Milan, only losing to Anthony Dupuyis after saving nine match points.

Malisse admitted it was hard having to end his Wimbledon campaign in such disappointing fashion. "I've had back a problem for a year, but then it started to get better," he said.

"But it started hurting at the French Open again, so I've had it for the last three weeks. "It's tough. It doesn't get any better when I'm playing. I'm doing a lot of exercise and it's tough if you have to play a lot of matches."