Wimbledon '99: Danger Men And Women: Six Floaters Who Could Sting The Favourites
Sunday 20 June 1999
The Old Lion is having the final growl at his favourite tournament, where he has won three times, so a few opponents could end up with claw marks on their ambitions. It might have made sentimental sense to seed Boris Becker for this curtain call but he will no doubt relish the chance to cause a spot of mayhem in an undemanding section of the draw. If he puts away Scotland's Miles Maclagan it could set up a feisty second-round clash with his compatriot and 15th seed, Nicolas Kiefer, who has been critical of Becker's handling of the German Davis Cup squad.
The morose and world-weary Pioline is that rare bird of tennis, a Frenchman who loves to frolic on grass more than clay. He was runner-up to Pete Sampras two years ago and has also twice been a quarter-finalist. This will be Pioline's ninth consecutive Wimbledon, another rare sign of faith in someone from a clay-court nation, and although he has just passed 30 years of age he will relish being in a section of the draw where the biggest guns, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Karol Kucera, have tended to misfire on grass and where several of his lesser countrymen are also lodged.
The red-headed one from Florida is still motoring along merrily on the adrenalin of his Davis Cup heroics against Britain in the spring. He is also something of an unexpected form horse at Wimbledon, a baseline grinder who made it all the way to the final in 1993. It has indisputably been a while (1992) since Jim held the world number one ranking in his profession but, with the notable exceptions of Tim Henman and Wayne Ferreira, there is hardly a grass-court tyro in his area of the draw and he could well put an early end to the ambitions of the 12th seed, Carlos Moya.
Though she has slipped just outside a seeding place, this is the woman who became the first modern-era Spaniard to win Wimbledon. That was five years ago and although she has regressed since then (she has made third- round exits in the past two years), the former champion still strikes a mean enough ball to have got through to the final of last year's Australian Open and the last eight of this year's French. There is only one hazard in her section, a potential third-round face-to-face with her old pal, rival and Federation Cup colleague, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
Potentially the most dangerous unseeded woman at Wimbledon, the only question is whether the Swiss left-hander has recovered from the logjam of traumas which have put the brake on what looked like a soaraway career. First there was her association - now ended - with a German faith healer/coach/lover, to be followed by her abject surrender at the French Open to Anna Kournikova, someone she alone among the world appears to loathe. Last year Schnyder was climbing fast as a serious rival to Martina Hingis in her homeland, something she urgently needs to remember.
Like Elvis Presley and the Loch Ness monster, sightings of Jennifer on the comeback trail have been frequent and unfounded. Fingers crossed, but this time it seems she might be on the way, having taken aboard the canny coaching skills of Harold Solomon. If Capriati can assim-ilate Solly's dedication and fitness regime she could become an older and wiser golden girl all over again, at 24. A tough first round against Andrei Medvedev's sweetheart Anke Huber, but then things could open up for the girl who was a Wimbledon semi-finalist aged 15 in 1991.
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