When Magnus Norman upset fourth-seeded Nicolas Kiefer at the Australian Open Wednesday night, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), it was hard to tell who was more shocked: Kiefer, who had advanced through this tournament with such little trouble he seemed virtually assured a big-time breakthrough, or Norman, who never thought his breakthrough would come.
"This is something that I never believed I could make in my career when I started to play tennis, that I was actually going to be in a semifinal in a Grand Slam," said Norman, seeded 12th. "It's huge. I mean, I've no words for it. I mean, it's unbelievable."
Kiefer was as frustrated as Norman was elated, realizing he had let the match slip through his hands when he double-faulted on a key second-set break point, on a set point in the third set and on one of the seven match points he was unable to convert. But if the 22-year-old German was disappointed, the crowd at Melbourne Park--stocked with screaming, yellow-and-blue clad Swedish fans--was thrilled for the affable Norman, who almost didn't make it into professional tennis.
Norman grew up playing both tennis and bandy, a Swedish sport played with a round ball on a sheet of ice the size of a soccer field. When he was 16 years old, he got two letters in the mail on the same day--one was an invitation to travel to Russia with the Swedish Bandy Federation, and the other was an invitation from the Swedish Tennis Federation to play in a junior tournament in Florida.
"I chose between Moscow and Florida," said Norman, who opted to travel to Miami. "I'm pretty glad I made that decision."
Even once Norman chose to pursue tennis, he had several health setbacks, including a five-hour surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat in 1997. Norman said he tries not to think about the surgery, although he is grateful to be feeling so healthy.
"I'm the happiest man on earth right now," he said. "Those were hard times, but right now I just want to look forward to my next match."
Norman will next play defending champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who rolled through Morocco's Younes El Aynaoui, 6-0, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), on Wednesday. The first set took Kafelnikov just 19 minutes to complete, and while he started this tournament thinking he was not in good enough shape to retain his title, he now feels he is playing well enough to win the tournament.
The women's defending champion, Martina Hingis, is also in top shape, toying with 13th-seeded Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario on her way to a 6-1, 6-1 victory. Hingis finished her match in just 45 minutes, but her opponent in Thursday's semifinal did not have as easy a day. It took 10th-seeded Conchita Martinez almost three hours to dispose of 16th-seeded Elena Likhovtseva, 6-3, 4-6, 9-7.