Wimbledon '97: Sampras leads the advance of big guns

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The Independent Online
Before we become totally carried away with Henmania and the Rusedskian rave, it is worth remembering that we have in our midst the reigning champion, the raining champion and the non-raining champion.

Richard Krajicek, last year's sensation, aims to prove that he is not a one-title wonder, a fate which may befall the retiring Michael Stich, who shone through the downpours of 1991.

Pete Sampras, whose poetic attacking style has been described as boring, dominated the lawns for three consecutive championships of almost unbroken sunshine between 1993 and 1995, and has the class to mop up on this occasion.

Ah, yes, and we must not overlook Boris Becker, who is so proud that his life as a tennis player was born on the grass courts of London, and who is expected to be Sampras's hurdle in the quarter-finals.

"The host country has had a few people in the third round and two in the fourth round, so it's normal, to be expected, that they write more about them," Becker said yesterday after dispatching Mark Petchey, of Essex, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. "But I came here not to be so much in the newspapers in the morning, but to play tennis well. That's just fine with me. I've been in the newspaper so many times."

Sampras was asked if he would like to be afforded more attention since Andre Agassi was not here for him to sneak in behind. "Have you forgotten that Rusedski and Henman are still there?" the American replied, smiling. "I prefer not really being talked about, not being the centre of attention, and just playing my tennis.

"When Agassi's here, he's really the centre of all the tabloids and stuff, and with Henman and Rusedski playing very well, that's perfect."

Having continued a trouble-free advance by defeating Byron Black, of Zimbabwe, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, the world No 1 will meet Petr Korda in the fourth round. The tall, lean Czech left-hander defeated Sampras in an epic semi- final at the 1993 Compaq Grand Slam Cup in Munich.

Becker's next opponent is Marcelo Rios, a 21-year-old Chilean whose popularity at the French Open earned him him the media's Lemon Award (Martina Hingis received the Orange). Rios's mood was probably not improved when another Latin American, the Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten, left Paris with the men's singles trophy.

It may disappoint Becker, though not surprise him, to learn that Rios has repeated Ivan Lendl's view that "grass for cows, soccer and golf". The young man's coach, Larry Stefanki, tried to smooth things over by saying, "In that case, I think Marcelo's turning into a cow."

Rios spent a good deal of time on the meadow of No 3 Court yesterday finding a way past John van Lottum, a 21-year-old Dutch qualifier, ranked No 366, 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4.

"I came three years ago and I got really pissed, complaining about every bounce when I couldn't hit the ball clean or play my game," Rios said. "I think my mentality has changed, and I get pissed a little bit, but not that much."

Becker will endeavour to make every bounce awkward for Rios. He knows better than to take his opponent lightly, even on grass, from his experience of playing the Chilean on the clay of Monte Carlo last year. Rios defeated him in straight sets.

Becker said: "He's a very good counter-puncher. He plays with the power of the other guy, takes the ball early, and has a very good feel for the court. On a good day, he can be excellent. The surface doesn't matter. He has a good eye for everything."

So, too, does Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who appears to have cleared his mind of last year's agonising first-round defeat by Henman. The Russian No 3 seed defeated Australia's Jason Stoltenberg, a semi-finalist last year, 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

Not that Kafelnikov will view his fourth-round opponent with anything but respect. Nicolas Kiefer, a 20-year-old German, ranked No 98, continued to make an impressive debut. Yesterday he eliminated Andrei Medvedev, the Ukrainian No 13 seed, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4.

Even allowing for the loss of Stoltenberg, the Australians are guaranteed a quarter-finalist. Pat Rafter is due to meet Todd Woodbridge in the fourth round.

While the All England Club have broken the backlog of matches by gambling on a second People's Sunday, there are grounds for concern because of the wear and tear some of the courts have taken.

Goran Ivanisevic has been fined $2,000 [pounds 1,350] for refusing to attend a news conference following his second round defeat to Magnus Norman on Saturday.

More reports, results, page 30

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