Wimbledon 97: Majoli savours the green grass of victory

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The Independent Online
You would have thought Iva Majoli had just won the French Open again. Indeed, she admitted it was almost as good. Her smile lit up the grey skies when she defeated Argentina's Maria Diaz-Oliva yesterday and she bowed with utter delight to the Court Two crowd.

When she took her first Grand Slam title in Paris two weeks ago, she said her dream was to win a match at Wimbledon, where she had a 100 per cent record of failure. Yesterday, that dream came true: 2-6, 6-0, 6-3. "It was a release," the fourth seed said.

"People have said I should do well on grass but it's tough to play when you come to the court and you think: `Oh my gosh, I've never won a match'. I'll have more confidence now. I feel good about myself."

It is doubtful if Majoli felt that way when she surrendered the first set in 24 minutes, but she remembered the advice she had got from the former champions, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, beforehand, and turned the match around. "They told me if I bent my knees, be down low and move well, I'd have a chance. They were really happy for me."

Majoli was happy too, so much so that even Eastbourne, which put her on an outside court last week when she felt, as the French champion, she deserved better, got off relatively lightly. "That's past and I don't really feel like talking about it," she said. "That's a tournament I'll probably never play in again in my life. I thought it was unfair but it was their decision. Now I'm fine and I'm at Wimbledon."

So was Dinu Pescariu, but he was less than thrilled. For most of us, the thunder rumbled at Wimbledon 1997 just as the clock hit 1pm, but he was the exception. For him the storm began as soon as the first ball was struck.

To get Goran Ivanisevic, the second seed, in the first round is bad enough when you are a seasoned player on grass. The Romanian was making his debut on the lawns of the All England club and was not enjoying the experience. With the ball crashing past his ears, you could not blame him.

Someone recently ranked Mark Philippoussis as the fastest server in the world, but Pescariu might beg to differ. Ivanisevic's first has the velocity of a missile, his next - you could not demean it by describing it as a second serve - is merely impossibly swift. Court Two carries the nickname "the Graveyard of champions"; on this occasion it was the challenger who was mentally carried off on the stretcher.

The first set was a 21-minute rout that Ivanisevic, like Majoli a Croat, dominated so completely that he attempted a volley from between his legs by way of light relief. The second was closer in terms of score, but quicker at 19 minutes. By the end, the scoreline of 6-1, 6-3, 6-3, was flattering, if anything, to Pescariu.

Ivanisevic served 24 aces, a remarkable number in just 11 service games - two of which were won with four great blacksmith heaves of his formidable left arm. He has served more before, but never at such a rate. Pescariu, understandably, looked thoroughly miserable and almost shell-shocked.