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The Brits Aren't Coming to Semis

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 1997; Page C6

WIMBLEDON, England, July 3 — As play began before noon at Wimbledon today, dozens of distraught Brits were crowded outside the gates to Court 1, desperately trying to trade their higher-priced Centre Court tickets for entrance into the All England club's secondary arena.

Some got lucky, some didn't. And some probably wished they had never set foot on the premises, because what happened today might be considered no less than a national disaster. British convert Greg Rusedski ended his remarkable Wimbledon run with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 loss to France's Cedric Pioline, who made it to the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time. And Tim Henman — the homegrown hero and real hope for British success here — had the worst sporting day of his life.

No. 14 Henman, the lone seeded player remaining in the bottom half of the men's bracket, went down with almost no fight to former champion Michael Stich in a match that finished 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, and ended in a paltry 86 minutes, not including rain delays. Stich, who has announced that he will retire at the end of this season, arrived here No. 88 in the world rankings after a series of poor performances. But here, at the tournament he won in 1991, he is enjoying a remarkable revival.

"It was probably my worst experience on a tennis court in my career so far," said a distraught Henman. "It's something I'm sure I'll go away and learn a great deal from. But . . . to lose [the quarterfinals of Wimbledon] as easily as I did is very disappointing."

Now, Stich will face Pioline, ranked No. 44 in the world, in the semifinals Friday, and No. 1 Pete Sampras will play Australian Todd Woodbridge (No. 37). Woodbridge defeated 19-year-old Nicholas Kiefer, 7-6 (9-7), 2-6, 6-0, 6-4, on Court 2 this afternoon.

Today's upsets — both Henman and Rusedski were ranked higher than their opponents — left the Brits squelching their fantasies of having their first home-grown Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry won in 1936.

And those fantasies had been growing rather large. After defeating defending champion Richard Krajicek in the quarterfinals, Henman — and all of England — began to believe that the 22-year-old from Oxford had a good chance of making the final, particularly since his game seemed to improve each time he played. Today, though, he reversed that trend. With his serve being his one real question mark, Henman had an ugly 10 double faults in his brief match and won just 58 percent of his service points.

"I have to try and think about my feelings," Henman said, "because 24 hours ago I was playing some of the best tennis, and then today I played some of my worst tennis."

Rusedski's problem was more his energy level than his skills — he admitted that he was exhausted coming into this match and could not keep up with Pioline, a clay-court guy with an odd affinity for grass.

Rusedski was the first to lose on Court 1 today, and the stands had a number of empty seats when he took the court at 11 a.m. The thought of a Brit playing in front of such a spotty crowd — the English tend to be late arrivers — at such an advanced level of Wimbledon was considered such an affront that the All England club issued a release to address it.

"It is disappointing that No. 1 Court should not have been more full," Christopher Gorringe, the chief executive, said in the statement. "But in the end there is nothing the Club can do to force spectators to arrive at a certain time."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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