The grounds of the All England club were quiet today. There had been a possibility of tennis here, a final option if rain had dampened the weekend. But organizers were able to squeeze both of Wimbledon's finals into the schedule Sunday, so all that was left today were half-dismantled stalls and scattered signs after two American champions, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport, had claimed their trophies.
On the men's side, 27-year-old Sampras had taken the British public on an emotional roller coaster. First, he dashed their hopes by defeating favorite son Tim Henman in the semifinals, preventing any chance of England getting its first Wimbledon champion in 63 years. But just when the crowd was ready to turn against him, Sampras brought legions of fans to their feet with a near-perfect performance in the finals, a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, dismantling of longtime rival Andre Agassi.
Agassi, who won the French Open earlier this month, still walked away from the match with the No. 1 ranking, but Sampras left with his sixth Wimbledon title in seven years, a modern-era record, and his 12th Grand Slam win, tying Roy Emerson's men's record.
"These were tough circumstances, with nerves and such a big occasion playing Andre--I didn't think I was going to play great," Sampras said. "But once you get into the heat of competition and start playing, it's all instinct. This is the same court I've played on over the years, and I just started playing better and better as the match wore on."
The match was much more notable for Sampras's powerful serves and dart-like groundstrokes than for any mistakes Agassi made, but that was little comfort to Agassi, who had been trying to win his second Wimbledon title. He did vow to make this a difficult summer for Sampras, rekindling a rivalry between the two players that started 15 years ago on the courts of Southern California. And that would be good news for men's tennis, which recently has found itself overshadowed by a group of up-and-coming women's players.
"Now it's a great time, because all the anticipation has been built, including mine," Agassi said. "I want another shot at him, and I don't just want another shot at him this summer. I want another shot at him in the finals of the U.S. Open."
While Sampras and Agassi aim for another meeting, three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker used this fortnight as a farewell tour. The 31-year-old German, a part-time player for the last two years, justified his return to the grounds by fighting off three match points in the opening round. He then made his stay memorable by slicing through his next two opponents, finally falling in the fourth round to No. 2 seed Patrick Rafter. As he walked off Centre Court one last time, he raised his arms to the sky, and every fan in the stadium stretched with him, clapping in appreciation.
Becker's countrywoman, seven-time Wimbledon champion Steffi Graf, also played in her final Wimbledon, although she kept her plans much more private. It wasn't until after falling to Davenport, 6-4, 7-5, in the finals that the 30-year-old Graf announced she would not be back. She would not comment on whether she plans to retire completely or even whether she plans to play the U.S. Open in September, although she has said she will not be returning to Roland Garros, where she won the French Open last month.
"It's looking pretty obvious that if she is not playing the French Open or Wimbledon again that she's probably retiring this year, and that's sad," Davenport said. "Steffi's probably the greatest player that ever played, but at the same time I think it's really cool she's been able to go out on her own terms, still playing well."
Graf did look sharp in Sunday's final, but she was not able to overcome Davenport, who played consistent tennis throughout the tournament despite often being overshadowed by more flamboyant competitors. Eighteen-year-old American Alexandra Stevenson certainly made noise with her professional debut, especially after her mother, Samantha Stevenson, was criticized for controversial comments and her father was revealed to be NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving.
But Stevenson drew attention with her on-court performances as well, rocketing through the draw until meeting Davenport in the semifinals. At that point, Stevenson discovered why Davenport, who also won the U.S. Open last year, grabbed the No. 1 ranking at this tournament. Davenport did not drop a set here, in either singles or doubles, which she also won.
"After not playing so well on this surface, to win here, to not lose a set, to beat Graf--all of it combined--just makes it the most amazing win," Davenport said. "It's just a different feeling to be the Wimbledon champion."
1.Lindsay Davenport, U.S.
2. Martina Hingis, Switz.
3. Steffi Graf, Germany
4. Venus Williams, U.S.
5. Monica Seles, U.S.
6. Mary Pierce, France
7. Jana Novotna, Czech Rep.
8. A. Sanchez Vicario, Spain
9. Amanda Coetzer, S. Africa
10. Nathalie Tauziat, France
1. Andre Agassi, U.S.
2. Patrick Rafter, Australia
3. Pete Sampras, U.S.
4. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Russia
5. Gustavo Kuerten, Brazil
6. Tim Henman, Britain
7. R. Krajicek, Netherlands
8. Alex Corretja, Spain
9. Marcelo Rios, Chile
10. Todd Martin, U.S.
CAPTION: Six-time champion Pete Sampras, first-time winner Lindsay Davenport--both of United States--are reigning king and queen at Wimbledon ball in London.