If ever a championship should have been shrouded in fog, this
Wimbledon was the one. Instead, the sun shone on all of it.
Bright rays exposed Jeff Tarango's foolish, balding head.
Sunbeams illuminated the interior of Andre Agassi's billowing
white shorts, which, accompanied by his head rag and
inexplicably subservient play, made him look less like the
world's No. 1 player than a domestic. Exposed to the glare were
disappearances and low dramas. Maybe that's what happens when
you let guys named Murph through the gates of the All England
Club and trick up the balls and dig up the grounds in the name
of progress. Thank god for Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf.
Otherwise, think of the headlines: CLEANING LADY WINS WIMBLEDON.
Most of the fortnight was dominated by anything but tradition.
In 27 Wimbledons since the open era began in 1968, no player had
ever been defaulted; suddenly there were three. A bookie took
bets on whether Goran Ivanisevic would smile once during the
tournament--and had to pay one chap $1,700 when he did. Children
and adults strolled the grounds wearing Agassi look-alike
outfits, which included a fake goatee, sideburns, hoop earring
and a do-rag. A sunstruck goofiness permeated the place as
temperatures hit 110 degrees. "I have never seen anything like
this in all my years," said Nick Bollettieri, who coached Boris
Becker to his first Grand Slam final since 1991. "Everything to
But here was the weirdest part: In the end this Wimbledon
evolved into a classic. For the first time since seeding began
in 1927 the top four players in both the men's and women's draws
reached the semifinals. From that point on the tournament
provided grand, orchestral tennis, building to a crashing climax
in the finals. Graf defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 4-6, 6-1,
7-5 in a women's title match that was simply the best since
Margaret Court defeated Billie Jean King 14-12, 11-9 in 1970.
And Sampras beat Becker 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 to win his third
straight Wimbledon crown. "History, baby," Sampras said,
exulting afterward in the bowels of the Centre Court stadium.
"It's a beautiful day."
Becker, as he lifted the runner-up plate, received a greater
roar than had Sampras when he seized his trophy, a reflection,
perhaps, of the fact that it was the 10th anniversary of
Becker's first Wimbledon title, won at the age of 17. But in the
long run this will be remembered as Sampras's day. Becker, at 27
the oldest finalist since 31-year-old Jimmy Connors in 1984,
seemed to be reaching for something that was no longer there. He
could not create so much as a single break point against
Sampras's 129-mph serve. "You just hope for rain," Becker said.
Even more disheartening to Becker was that Sampras committed
just seven unforced errors while striking 68 winners. "I
couldn't really blame myself," Becker said.
The normally impassive Sampras stripped off his shirt and flung
it into the gallery, and followed that with a cup of water. The
term "ThreePete" was immediately applied to Sampras's title, but
that didn't do justice to his achievement. Sampras became only
the third man since World War I--and the first American man--to
win three in a row, joining the company of Fred Perry (1934 to
'36) and Bjorn Borg (1976 to '80). And it was his first Grand
Slam triumph in a year. He lost the 1995 Australian Open final
to Agassi after his coach, Tim Gullikson, was stricken with
brain tumors. Since Gullikson fell ill, Sampras has also
struggled with a sprained ankle, the loss of his No. 1 ranking
to Agassi and a first-round upset at the French Open. "This is
the most emotional one, just because of the way the year has
been," Sampras said, dedicating the victory to Gullikson. "There
is no better feeling than waking up after one of these. If I
ever get to sleep."
For Graf, her sixth Wimbledon title was her hardest-won. She
played pumped full of anti-inflammatories to quell the pain of a
bone spur in her back. Yet another injury, this one to her
wrist, had caused her to fly home to Germany for treatment four
days before the tournament began and prompted her to withdraw at
the last minute from the doubles competition, in which she was
scheduled to play with Martina Navratilova. "It has been quite
difficult," she said. "You can't imagine."
Her fitness didn't seem to be so questionable when, in the
final, she outendured the most durable player in the game in
second-ranked Sanchez Vicario. And she won arguably the best
single game ever played on Centre Court, the penultimate of the
match. It was a 32-point, 13-deuce affair that lasted 20
minutes, before Graf broke Sanchez Vicario's serve for a 6-5 lead.
Graf then easily held serve for the title, running her match
record for the year to 32-0. Afterward she jogged up to the box
to hug her family then darted back into a dark hallway, where
she let out a shriek of joy that rang throughout Centre Court.
Graf's titles are increasingly precious to her, as her
injury-plagued body deteriorates. Two years ago she prevailed at
Wimbledon on a bad foot. She has had sinus problems, elbow
problems, shoulder problems. Her struggle to recover her health
since her back ailment was diagnosed following her loss in the
U.S. Open to Sanchez Vicario last September has been a
Yet, as gallant as Graf's effort was, it was no more inspired
than the performance of Sanchez Vicario, who is determined to
make her place among the great players. Sanchez Vicario, clay
court born and raised in Spain, reached her first Wimbledon
final aided by a simple change of attitude. It was Conchita
Martinez's victory last year that suddenly opened Sanchez
Vicario's eyes: If her countrywoman and rival could do it, so
could she. That was obvious as she upset Martinez in the
semifinals 6-3, 6-7, 6-1. "To tell the truth, I've never really
prepared well for this tournament," Sanchez Vicario said. "I
never thought about the good things here, only the bad. I was
always complaining that grass is for cows. I complained about
the bounces. I complained about the weather. It took me longer
than most people, but finally I changed my mind."
Perhaps the seminal moment in Sanchez Vicario's career came in
that 11th game of the final set. She and Graf seesawed back and
forth, Sanchez Vicario holding eight game points to Graf's six
break points. A fatal defensiveness finally finished Sanchez
Vicario: Given multiple opportunities to close on the net and
put the game away, she played from the middle and backcourt. It
was Graf who began encroaching, and a volley by her was the
difference in the match. Sanchez Vicario had repeatedly scored
with crosscourt forehand passes. On the 13th deuce, she tried
the crosscourt again, and it turned out to be once too often.
Graf smelled it coming, covered the angle and jabbed a drop
volley into the open court. A classic Graf inside-out forehand
on the next point ended the game-and, effectively, the match. In
the annals of Wimbledon, only the McEnroe-Borg 18-16 tiebreaker
in 1980 could match this for drama and excellence.
The match partly redeemed women's tennis at the moment when it
was hardly showing itself to its best advantage. Monica Seles,
who has been absent since being stabbed during a tournament in
Hamburg in 1993, made a much-anticipated announcement shortly
after Graf's victory: She will return to tennis (page 22). It
should have been the best possible news for the tour, which has
languished without a title sponsor and suffered from lack of
depth. Instead the WTA's top players responded less than
magnanimously. While they agreed to grant Seles a special co-No.
1 ranking for six events, they could not agree on how to
integrate Seles back into the tour for the long term. Unable to
come up with a proper formula to do so, the idea was finally
tabled without a resolution. "They agree they want Monica back
... but," said Navratilova, who has seen it as her chief task to
get Seles to return to the court, "they're all defending their
own little turf."
That was one of the milder controversies of the tournament. The
first player defaulted was Tim Henman of Great Britain, washed
out during a doubles match for striking a ball in anger that
accidentally hit a ball girl in the temple. Then there was Jeff
Tarango, who stalked off the court in the middle of his match
against Alex Mronz, charging chair umpire Bruno Rebeuh with
corruption; his wife, Benedicte, made it worse by slapping
Rebeuh. Tarango was fined $15,500 by the International Tennis
Federation and is under further investigation for "conduct
contrary to the integrity of the game," for which he could be
suspended and fined six figures.
Then there was the case of the disappearing Murphy Jensen. He
failed to appear for a mixed doubles match, and it was reported
that he might have harmed himself or been snatched. Jensen's
family was worried but not unduly so. Murphy had slept through a
match a week earlier in Nottingham, and the night before his
disappearance he'd had a cheerful dinner with a group of friends
at Mr. Chow's Chinese restaurant. According to his mother, Pat,
he had gotten stuck in traffic en route to the mixed doubles
match at Wimbledon, heard on the radio he was defaulted and
then, embarrassed by his gaffe, gone fishing with an old college
buddy. "That's Murph," his partner, Brenda Schultz-McCarthy
said, and by fortnight's end, Jensen himself had confirmed the
Add to that an architectural debate concerning Wimbledon's
decision to dig out a new No. 1 court where there once was a
rolling lawn. And then there was the great ball brouhaha.
Panicked by charges that racket technology was rendering grass
court tennis obsolete after last year's final between Sampras
and Ivanisevic, which amounted to a monotonous serving contest,
Wimbledon introduced a slightly heavier, deader ball. What did
it accomplish? Ivanisevic served 175 aces in the tournament,
including 38, four shy of the tournament record, in his
semifinal with Sampras. But Sampras was just better than
Ivanisevic when the ball was in play, and he won 7-6, 4-6, 6-3,
4-6, 6-3. "I am always unlucky," the morose Ivanisevic said
afterward. "I am unluckiest player who ever lived. I was
probably born unlucky."
His only bad luck here was that of facing Sampras, whose ability
to raise his game as circumstances demand is becoming a
trademark. So is his knack for keeping distractions to a minimum
during tournaments. He was a virtual shut-in in London, mostly
staying in his hotel suite and eating meals cooked by his
girlfriend, Delaina Mulcahy. "I'm antisocial," he conceded. His
only foray out was to play, practice or frequent a sandwich
shop, Crumpets, where he would read papers and discuss the
events of the day with Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson, Tim's
twin. Tom has been an invaluable substitute companion to Sampras
during tournaments, and his frequent cries of "Pistol" during
the final were comforting to Sampras. During this fortnight a
big evening for Sampras was losing "a few quid" at backgammon to
Gullikson. He ended the tournament $500 in the hole.
Meanwhile, Becker defeated Cadric Pioline of France in a
thunderous quarterfinal, 6-3, 6-1, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7. Then he took
down the tournament darling, Agassi.
Becker used to strive to be older than his years, but now he
seems to be trying to recapture his youth. In Bollettieri he
hired a coach known for his motivational skills, which Becker
said Bollettieri applied by chasing "me out of bed and onto the
practice court." The result was the sort of run that used to be
routine for him. When Becker defeated Pioline, he left the court
with his finger in the air and a light in his eyes. "If I had
lost that one...," he said to Bollettieri. Then he went out and
Normally, Agassi's failure to reach the final would have been
viewed as a national tragedy here, such is the British liking
for his iconoclasm and star quality. He and girlfriend Brooke
Shields dodged the tabloids by dining in their rented home on
food catered by Planet Hollywood, or snuck into the restaurant
for back room screenings of Crimson Tide and Apollo 13. His
baggy garb, shirt and shorts flapping about his knees--"Nothing
fits except his head rag and his shoes," Pam Shriver
remarked--became an instant trend. "Are you aware that your
shorts are see-through?" one tabloid reporter asked. "Obviously,
you are," Agassi said.
But in Becker, Agassi ran into a player who is a bigger
Wimbledon icon than he is, and he disappeared from the
tournament as suddenly as had Murphy Jensen. Holding a one-set
lead with two service breaks in the second, Agassi grew cocksure
and let Becker back in. Then Becker slammed the door on Agassi
in a pair of tiebreakers, the little chap able to take only one
point in each, as Becker ran out the match 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6.
"There's life in the big bear yet," crowed Bollettieri, who
parted acrimoniously with former pupil Agassi two years ago.
But the emotional and physical toll on Becker told in the final.
Heavy in the legs, he committed 15 double faults. There was a
time, Becker said, when his competitive rage was such that he
might have bumped chests with Sampras in the locker room. Not
anymore. Becker once called Centre Court his home, but clearly
he has been usurped. "It used to be mine, now it's his," he said.
Here's what Sampras has accomplished at the tender age of 23.
With six Grand Slam titles, he is halfway to Roy Emerson's
record total of 12 and closing fast on the number won by Connors
(eight) and McEnroe (seven). Only two other American men have
won as many Wimbledons, McEnroe and Bill Tilden. He has once
more made a persuasive case to be remembered as the player of
his generation. A trophy in his possession again, Sampras sat in
the Wimbledon basement, wired and jiggling a foot. "I can play
this game a long, long time," he said.
COLOR PHOTO:DAVID WALBERG/HBO Sampras stretched his Wimbledon streak to a ThreePete.[Pete Sampras lunging for backhand shot]
COLOR PHOTO:BOB MARTIN The do-rag Agassi wore provided as much help as his see-through shorts did against a dominant Becker in their semifinal. [Boris Becker hitting shot]
COLOR PHOTO:RUSS ADAMS [see caption above--Andre Agassi hitting shot]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS:DAVID WALBERG/HBO(2) Sanchez Vicario fell to Graf, but only after a 32-point, 13-deuce hair-raiser in the third set. [Arantxa Sanchez Vicario lying on the ground; Steffi Graf hitting shot]
COLOR PHOTO:BOB MARTIN Graf reigned in pain en route to her sixth Wimbledon title. [Steffi Graf holding her racket over her head in celebration]