Philippoussis fan club set for Henman

Before yesterday, the last time an Australian had played in a "People's Day" match here was three years ago when Pat Rafter lost an epic, cacophonous final to Goran Ivanisevic on the third Monday of the 2001 tournament.

Mark Philippoussis's four-set victory over Chile's Fernando Gonzalez, played on No 2 Court, was never going to match that for atmosphere but the occasion did produce some revealing statistics that Tim Henman might have pondered overnight. Philippoussis is not only a danger with a racket. He's also a danger who incites a racket.

Of No 2 Court's capacity crowd of 2,220, some 75 per cent were Australian. Or rather some 75 per cent responded noisily in the affirmative when, at the end of the seventh game of the third set, one supporter yelled: "If you're an Aussie and you know it, clap your hands."

Of the rest of the crowd, around 25 (and we're not talking per cent) were vociferous Chileans. These flag-wavers made their presence felt with their own songs, including "Dale campeon! Dale campeon!" ("Go champion!") and a version of that seminal football favourite: "Chi-chi-chi, Le-le-le, Chile!" How do they think of them?

Back with the majority, there were at least as many flags being waved by green and gold shirts as there were Philippoussis aces (27). There were also 10 times as many different terms of endearment used to encourage Philippoussis as there were for his amiable opponent.

Gonzalez had to make do with the occasional "C'mon Gonzo", which came from an English fan. Philippoussis was variously urged on with "C'mon Mark", "Go Mark", "Go Flip", "C'mon mate", "Go Aussie", "C'mon Scud", "Go on son" (which seemed a little familiar until you realised it was Mr Philippoussis saying it), "C'mon son" (ditto), "Go Po", and "Go Poo" (which sounded unfortunate, but was very well meant). As for paraphernalia, there were a few green and gold wigs (four, to be precise) and a smattering of corked hats. There was, though, a woeful dearth of giant inflatable kangaroos. There wasn't a single one, which marked a sad day for the giant inflatable kangaroo industry.

Whether their absence was down to security is not certain. There was no explicit ban but then you could fit a lot of Semtex inside Skippy if you were so minded. Maybe the security guards were a bit overzealous. Or maybe the whole giant inflatable kangaroo thing has burst. One thing's for sure. It didn't make much difference to Philippoussis, whose match stats were as dominant as his followers.

Last year's runner-up did not drop a single service game, with the only set ceded in his 6-4, 6-1, 6-7, 7-5 win coming via a tie-break he lost 7-4 after losing his footing.

Sixty-six per cent of his serves were unreturned, helping Philippoussis win 91 per cent of his first-serve points. Of his 27 aces, one of which registered 139mph on the speed gun, 10 came in the final set.

The Australian did not wilt, as might have been expected, with duration of the match. He seemed, if anything, to get stronger and more fluid. His touch at the net became defter. At one stage he playing three consecutive volleys, the last a delicious backhand, to seal a game. His movement and placement were also assured, evidenced by the winning point, a dazzling cross-court pass. Henman has not yet faced anyone here this year with the power or range of play to trouble him more than Philippoussis.

"Every match I feel like I'm getting a little better," Philippoussis said. "That's what you're looking for in a Grand Slam." Of facing Henman, he added: "I think I know exactly how Tim's going to play. Everyone knows. He knows how I'm going to play. I'll definitely enjoy myself."

Asked if he believed in destiny, and whether he felt he was destined to win the title here one day, he replied: "I honestly believe that I will win here one day. Whether it will be this year, who knows? But that's always been a dream for me. I just love coming out here. I love Centre Court, the atmosphere. There's no other court that has the same feeling, looks as good."

Not even No 2 yesterday.

The last time Philippoussis met Henman here was on Centre Court four years ago in the fourth round. The Australian won in five sets. A repeat of that today and who knows how his fans will react. The giant inflatable kangaroos might even get an outing.

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