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Without Rain, Wimbledon Turns Up Aces
By Jennifer Frey
WIMBLEDON, England, June 28After days of miserable weather and monumental boredom, Wimbledon emerged today with a spectacular lineup of matches, a colossal number of aces and two dramatic victories—one from a young Swede with a troubled heart, the other from a beloved Brit who carried the weight of his country's expectations upon his aching back. The only thing missing was the much-forecasted rain.
Magnus Norman—the 21-year-old Swede who drove Pete Sampras from the French Open a few weeks ago—did the same to second-seeded Goran Ivanisevic in the day's biggest upset. And Britain's Greg Rusedski staged the day's biggest comeback to beat American Jonathan Stark despite a strained back. In an epic match that was, at times, difficult to believe, Ivanisevic served a Wimbledon record 46 aces, saved two match points and apparently drove his opponent to heart palpitations, yet still lost, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 14-12.
Norman, who rose to No. 38 in the world after beating Sampras in the third round of the French Open, had to be treated for an accelerated heartbeat in the middle of the fifth set. He said after the match he will have his health reevaluated before deciding whether to continue in the tournament.
"The doctor in Sweden said before it's not dangerous," Norman said of his irregular heartbeat, which has plagued him in two previous matches. "But it's not very good if it comes more times."
With or without Norman, who is scheduled to play New Zealand's Brett Steven, the tournament will resume less than 14 hours after darkness chased women's singles No. 2 seed Monica Seles from Centre Court tonight. For only the second time in Wimbledon history—the first coming in 1991—All England club officials have scheduled matches for the Sunday in the middle of the tournament. They hope to reduce the huge backlog that resulted from this week's rain, which washed out two full days of play and parts of two others.
Tickets for Sunday's play will be on a first-come, first-served basis, and as news of the decision leaked into the surrounding environs, the tent-pitchers outside the main gate on Church Road multiplied like ants on a strawberry left in the sun.
Today's ticket holders, though, had to feel blessed. At any point during this long afternoon and evening, there was terrific tennis taking place on multiple courts.
Women's No. 1 Martina Hingis played, and won, the day's first full match on Centre Court, and men's No. 1 Pete Sampras did the same in the last on Court 1, both victories coming in straight sets. In between, British heartthrob Tim Henman cruised through his second-round meeting, as did No. 8 seed and three-time champion Boris Becker.
Fans on Court 2—better known as "The Graveyard of Champions" for its history of upsets—gasped when defending titlist and No. 4 seed Richard Krajicek dropped the first and third sets to Andrei Pavel. But Krajicek recovered to win in five sets. Former champion Conchita Martinez found herself relegated to lowly Court 10, next door to Anna Kournikova, the popular 16-year-old Russian who had packed Centre Court in the first round. Both won.
The same cannot be said for Venus Williams and Justin Gimelstob, two upstart Americans who were sent packing—Williams by Poland's Magdalena Grzybowski, Gimelstob by former champion Michael Stich. And poor Kristina Brandi, an American who is ranked 86th, was rewarded for beating Ann Grossman in one of the day's early matches by being sent back out to face Seles as twilight fell. Seles dropped the first set, 7-5, but had rolled to a 3-1 lead in the second when play was called.
"This is an incredible day for the fans," said Jeremy Stopple, who had camped outside through multiple thunderstorms to get tickets for today's tennis. "It almost made up for the rain."
Today's best matches were the two five-set men's thrillers—the Norman-Ivanisevic meeting and the rousing contest between Rusedski and Stark on Court 1.
With the tennis-starved crowd in an absolute frenzy, Rusedski rallied to beat Stark, 4-6, 6-7 (11-9), 6-4, 6-3, 11-9, in a comeback made all the more stunning by the fact that he played with an injured back. Having strained a muscle in his early morning practice session, Rusedski was in so much pain during the first set that he had to stop play and take a pain-killer. And when he jumped in his postmatch excitement, his shirt lifted to reveal the brace he had been forced to wrap around his mid-section for support.
"I was struggling a little bit with my fitness and John served unbelievably well," Rusedski said. "He was probably averaging two aces a game."
Rusedski and Stark had to play 20 games in the fifth set and combined for a whopping 72 aces—pretty close to what Norman and Ivanisevic posted on Court 3. In that match, no one seemed capable of breaking serve, and, for a long time, no one came close. After the seventh game of the fifth set, Ivanisevic didn't see a break point until the 23rd game, when he squandered four and Norman held for a 12-11 lead. And though Ivanisevic's serve was clearly his biggest asset, it deserted him when he needed it most.
With Norman holding a 13-12 advantage, Ivanisevic double-faulted to set up match point, Norman's third such opportunity of the match (he failed to convert two in the 22nd game). His first serve out, Ivanisevic went softer with the second, and Norman—who had 25 aces of his own—hit a return winner to end the match 3 hours 23 minutes after it had begun.
His face contorted with disappointment and frustration, Ivanisevic—a two-time Wimbledon finalist who is best known as the best men's player on the tour never to win a Grand Slam tournament—quickly abandoned the All England club without speaking to reporters. But it was probably safe to assume that he's one of the few people here today who wished it had rained.