Lendl aces test in his worst class Serves up comeback in Wimbledon odyssey


WIMBLEDON, England -- First it was a dream. Then it became an obsession. And, finally, it was a chore.

Ivan Lendl's 13-year odyssey at Wimbledon appeared to be heading to its usual conclusion yesterday, with Lendl apparently headed for his second straight early exit.

"I had lost my timing on my serve at the beginning of the second set," said Lendl.

It wasn't the only thing he seemed to lose midway through his third-round match against Sandon Stolle. He lost confidence. And interest. And the next two sets.

But when Lendl's serve returned, Stolle couldn't. In one of the most awesome displays of power here this side of Goran Ivanisevic, Lendl won his last 18 service points and finished off the 21-year-old Australian, 6-3, 1-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.

"When I was serving well, I was always in control," said Lendl, 32, who finished the match with six aces in his last four service games, giving him 21 for the match. "I was putting pressure on Sandon's serve. When I wasn't, he could take chances."

Stolle stayed with his more experienced opponent until the 11th game of the fifth set. The game began with Lendl hitting a forehand off the top of the net and ended with Lendl crunching a backhand crosscourt winner off Stolle's serve.

"I feel I improved a lot since last year [when he took a set off John McEnroe]," said Stolle, the son of three-time Wimbledon runner-up Fred Stolle and the 95th-ranked player in the world. "I hope I can build on this when I come back next year."

Lendl hopes he can build on his victory when he gets back on the court for a fourth-round match Monday. Seeded 11th, Lendl will play the eighth-seeded Ivanisevic, who needed only 22 aces and three sets to defeat another heavy hitter, Marc Rosset of Switzerland, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-4.

Except for Lendl's comeback, it was a fairly quiet day on the court at the All England Club. Among the men, defending champion and third seed Michael Stich of Germany, two-time champion and second seed Stefan Edberg, and fifth seed Pete Sampras all won in three easy sets.

"I'm not thinking about winning the tournament yet," said Sampras, the former U.S. Open champion who never had made it past the second round of Wimbledon in three tries. "When I was in the quarters of the French Open, you know I was thinking, 'I'm three matches away.' "

That thought will soon enter Monica Seles' head, if it hasn't already. Looking for her first Wimbledon championship after winning the first two legs of this year's Grand Slam, Seles struggled a bit early on before flicking away Laura Gildemeister of Peru, 6-4, 6-1.

"I played her many times and we always have tough matches," said Seles, who has won five straight Grand Slam tournaments -- the list doesn't include Wimbledon, which she withdrew from last year without explanation. "I was happy to get it over with. After the first set, it was a lot easier."

Struggle was common among the women's top seeds yesterday. Martina Navratilova, the No. 4 seed, came back from the brink again to beat 19-year-old Barbara Rittner of Germany, 7-5, 6-1. Seventh seed Mary Joe Fernandez, a semifinalist last year, injured her leg and lost to Amy Frazier, 6-3, 6-3. Tenth seed Anke Huber of Germany, who reached the quarters last year, was upset by Yayuk Basuki of Indonesia, 6-2, 6-3.

One shot turned the match for Navratilova. It might have been the shot of the tournament.

The shot -- a wrong-footed, behind-the-back, reflex volley on break point at 5-5, 30-40 in the first set -- kept the nine-time Wimbledon champion in the hunt for No. 10 at the All England Club.

"I've hit those before, but I don't think I've hit one at a better time," said Navratilova, who held service, broke Rittner and went on to the victory. "I was on the skids at that point."

The shot by Navratilova, which came off a forehand blast by her opponent standing 15 feet away, brought Rittner's thoughts of an upset to a halt. The 19-year-old German, who won last year's Junior Championship here, never recovered from a shot she had never seen before.

"If I'm up 6-5 and a break, she doesn't return so well and maybe I can win the first set," said Rittner. "Everything looks different. It was an unbelievable shot. I hit it really hard and she didn't know what to do. She just said it was very lucky."

You always need a little luck to win Wimbledon.

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