Wimbledon 1997: Norman's heart of desire
Sunday 29 June 1997
The rakish Croat was unwilling to go, twice coming from behind to force a fifth set that achieved epic proportions before the Swede powered a forehand service return home to close out the match 6-3 2-6 7-6 4-6 14- 12.
Most of the neutrals on a packed Court Three had been cheering Ivanisevic, a perennial favourite of the Wimbledon crowds, but Norman's determination and skill earned him a standing ovation.
Ivanisevic's serve was crucial, as it so often is. He served 46 aces, breaking John Feaver's long-standing record, but it was a double fault that gave Norman his third, decisive match point. The Swede is no slouch in the serving department either, but his survival and ultimate victory depended as much on a delicate touch at the net as on power.
Norman caused concern among the crowd and panic among watching Swedes when, at six games all in the final set, he pulled up clutching his chest. He took a two-minute medical break and received treatment in his chair for what Swedish reporters described as a recurring but not dangerous heart complaint. When he resumed, he seemed none the worse for wear, and today it will be Ivanisevic suffering heartache.
The next match on court was briefer and provided some consolation for the Croatian contingent when the other half of their dream team, Iva Majoli, defeated Marion Maruska of Austria 6-3 6-3.
Earlier, the British No 1 lost in straight sets in the first round of the singles, but since the match was in the women's tournament, the defeat registered barely a blip on the seismograph of national awareness.
Sam Smith was beaten 6-1 6-2 by Naoko Sawamatsu of Japan and trudged off to continue her lonely travels as the only Briton to regularly play WTA Tour events.
The match was on Court Three, more a peep court than a show court, flanked on one side by a walkway and on the other by a little grandstand, the top layer of which also affords a fine view of Court Two, which yesterday featured Mary Pierce. It is a measure of the esteem in which women's tennis is held in Britain that many of the crowd turned their backs on Smith to watch the French player instead.
Smith, 25, is a year older than her opponent yesterday, but is ranked some 70 odd places lower on the computer at 121. But such a mathematical gulf will have been no consolation for the north London-based player, who seemed badly out of touch and rarely threatened to make an impression.
It cannot have helped that British fans were comfortably outnumbered by their Japanese counterparts. The greatest threat to Sawamatsu's composure came not from her opponent but from the flash bulbs of her compatriots' cameras.
Smith won the toss and held her first service game comfortably, but she was broken in the third game of the first set and thereafter struggled, sitting between games with her brow furrowed, staring intently at a towel clenched tightly in her hands.
There was little to separate the players in terms of style - neither has an outstanding strength - but Sawamatsu proved the stronger retriever, often conjuring winners from unlikely angles when Smith seemed to have done enough to secure the point.
There was a flicker of defiance in the second set when Smith battled back to hold her first service game from 0-40 with two confident aces, and again shortly afterwards when she broke Sawamatsu's serve.
But the combination of careful, percentage backhands and vehement forehand winners proved too demanding to sustain, and Smith's confidence visibly drained away. One British fan summed up the patriotic reaction. "I'm off to watch Rusedski," he said.
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