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Henman Keeping Britain
on the Brink

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 2, 1997; Page D1

WIMBLEDON, England, July 1—On a day packed with a full slate of fourth-round Wimbledon matches—and disrupted, once again, by rain—No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov was upset by a 19-year-old from Germany, No. 1 Martina Hingis cruised without crisis, and Anna Kournikova, 16, beat a woman twice her age to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time in her life.

The match everyone wanted to talk about, though, was the one that did not end.

Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek met Britain’s Tim Henman on a torn-up and worn-down Centre Court late in this rain-splattered day, and the twosome played three tantalizing sets that left almost everyone wishing that the late-arriving sun never would set.

Set it did, though, and when play was suspended due to darkness, Krajicek’s title defense was growing quite threadbare, and Henman had much of England ready to go mad. With all three sets reduced to nail-biting tiebreakers, Henman had won the first and the third to take a 2-1 lead.

Henman and Krajicek are not the only ones who had to suffer unsettled sleep tonight. No. 1 Pete Sampras, scheduled last on Court 1, did not start his match with No. 16 Petr Korda until nearly 8 p.m. London time. And though Sampras was rolling—as he has in every round of this tournament—even he couldn’t finish three sets before darkness fell. The winner of the first set, Sampras was up 4-2 when the match was called.

The result is a scheduling mess on the men’s side. All the men’s quarterfinal matches will be played on Thursday, rather than the usual Wednesday, if the weather holds. No. 8 Boris Becker and former champion Michael Stich are still waiting to know the names of their opponents—Becker likely gets Sampras, and Stich will play either Henman or Krajicek. In the other men’s quarterfinals, upstart Nicholas Kiefer, who will turn 20 on Friday, will play Australian Todd Woodbridge; that match is Kiefer’s reward for defeating Kafelnikov, 6-2, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1, today. And Britain’s Greg Rusedski will play France’s Cedric Pioline.

The women’s bracket is much clearer. Hingis will face unseeded Denisa Chladkova in the quarterfinals, and French Open champion Iva Majoli, the No. 4 seed, will get Kournikova, the other 16-year-old. Kournikova today ousted Helena Sukova of the Czech Republic, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

In the bottom half of the bracket, No. 8 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat No. 9 Mary Pierce, 6-1, 6-3, and will face France’s Nathalie Tauziat. Indonesia’s Yayuk Basuki, who is playing the best tennis of her life, will meet No. 3 Jana Novotna.

Novotna today defeated No. 11 Mary Joe Fernandez in three sets to oust the last American from the women’s draw. With all 20 U.S. women losing, America is lacking a Wimbledon women’s quarterfinalist for the first time since 1913.

"I think that everything goes in cycles, and this was just a bad year for the U.S. here," Fernandez said.

While American tennis-watchers have been fussing and fussing about the United States’s dreadful showing here (Sampras is the only American remaining), the long-suffering Brits are nearly delirious. When Henman advanced to the quarterfinals last year, it was the first time in 52 years that a Brit had done so. Now, with Rusedski already that far, the Brits have a chance to see not one but two of the local loves in the round of eight.

That all depends, though, on Henman, who certainly put himself in excellent position tonight. For the first time in this tournament, Henman was playing a match in which he was the underdog, Krajicek seeded fourth to his 14th. Alhough it would be impossible for Henman not to feel the weight of his country’s expectations, the real pressure clearly was on Krajicek.

A big, booming server, Krajicek has a game perfect for Wimbledon’s grass, as he proved when he shocked Sampras in the quarters last year, then went on to win the title. But Henman, too, was serving well today and neither player suffered a service break in the first two sets.

The tiebreakers, then, were doozies. Henman had three set points at 6-3 in the first one, but didn’t manage to win it until his fifth set-point opportunity, when he hit a forehand winner for a 9-7 victory.

The score of the next tiebreaker was a duplicate, only this time Krajicek came out on top. After blowing two set-point chances in the 10th game, when Henman was serving, Krajicek got ahead 6-4 in the tiebreaker but blew both set points as well. Clearly frustrated with himself, Krajicek won the set the next chance he got with his 15th ace of the day.

After a few early breaks, the third set marched on toward what seemed to be an inevitable third tiebreaker—only Krajicek appeared not to want to play it. He frequently glanced at the sky, and had side conversations with the chair umpire, his gestures making it obvious that he thought the match should be called. But on to the tiebreaker they went.

Once again, Henman got ahead 6-3 and had three set points before him. And, once again, Krajicek saved the first two. This time, though, Krajicek hit a backhand wide on the third and stalked to his seat.

There was no question, then, that this day was over. The rest had to wait until Wednesday, where the two warriors will meet again on the same court. In the interim, most British hearts will hang in the balance, and Krajicek, for one, won’t be getting much sleep.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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