Sampras and Ivanisevic blast to Wimbledon final


WIMBLEDON, England -- Anyone coming to Wimbledon's men's semifinals to see tennis yesterday left unfulfilled.

Wham! Slam!

That was No. 1 seed and defending champion Pete Sampras moving into the Wimbledon final with a 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, victory over fellow big-server Todd Martin, and sending many of the 13,000 fans at Centre Court charging to the exits in search of an adrenalin rush.

Wham! Bam! Slam!

That was No. 4 seed Goran Ivanisevic joining Sampras in the finals with a 6-2, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory over Boris "The Gamesmanship King" Becker.

"I have to admit I lost to a great player," said Becker. "If that's what it takes to beat me, then that's too good.

"Last year, I lost in the semifinals to Sampras. This year to Goran. Hopefully, next time when I'm in the semifinals I will play a guy who is not so hot, who will give me a chance to play a little bit of tennis. I didn't get to do anything on the court because of so many aces. I want to play a guy who will let me rally a little bit and play the game."

In three sets, Ivanisevic served 22 aces, and no matter what anyone says, say a little prayer for Boris Becker.

He was the only entertainment out there.

Blasted as a "cheater" all week for his slow play, bathroom escapades and distracting on-court manners, he began the day by setting up to serve and then, just before tossing the ball, dipping into a deep knee bend.

The crowd roared.

He laughed, spread his hands, "What?" he mouthed.

Ivanisevic won the first set and overcame a Becker set point in the second-set tiebreaker with one of those debate-ending aces.

"I needed to win a point, doesn't matter how, and I won it in the easiest way, an ace," Ivanisevic said. "I never won a tiebreaker against him, and that's also a little pressure before I even started to play the tiebreaker. When I was down 4-2 [in the tiebreaker], I said, 'geez, it's going to be another one.' But then everything turned around. I played one good shot, and I put all my first serves in."

After Ivanisevic saved the set with his ace, Becker made an all-out appeal for help from the Duke and Duchess of Kent.

"I asked them whether he made a passing shot wide, and they agreed with me, he did," Becker said.

But a lot of good it did him. The line judge declined to change the call, and on the next point Ivanisevic hit a perfect backhand cross-court volley just out of Becker's reach.

As Ivanisevic turned to walk back for the next serve, Becker bowed to his back.

"Goran has had good timing on his shots this whole tournament so far," said Becker. "His game today was overall excellent and the way I look at this tournament, if you look over the last six or seven years, I have lost to the champion, so the odds are pretty much in his favor.

"You know, he had two serving aces in every game, and then he had a good volley on top of it. I talked to all the people on the sidelines and in the stands asking for help, but they had even less of an idea what I should do than I did."

Sampras was also dominating, though not quite as overpowering as usual. For the first time in this tournament he dropped a set, and Martin matched his ace total (13) for the match, if not his number of games won. Sampras only lost his serve twice.

"I really didn't serve well the entire match," said Sampras. "But I did serve well on the big points. I was down five break points in the last game and came in with some really good tough serves. But throughout the entire match the rhythm wasn't there. It didn't click the way it has been throughout the week.

"You can't serve well every match."

If that was bad, Ivanisevic is going to need his 22 aces come tomorrow.

"I'm confident," Ivanisevic said. "I mean I'm playing Pete. Two years ago, I didn't think I can lose that match against Agassi [in the final]. I thought, 'OK, I play Agassi, but I think I'm going to win.' But now, I don't think anything anymore. I just go there. It's the final. Everybody say Pete is favored, so that's nice to hear. And I go there, and we see."

Martin has served 102 aces in this tournament, but got no satisfaction yesterday from breaking Sampras' string of three-set victories by winning a set and saw no reason to believe Sampras' serve was anything but on.

"Unfortunately, he served extremely well," Martin said. "But he .. also created a lot of opportunities for himself on my serve. He returned very well."

Martin had already won four five-setters -- an Open-era record at Wimbledon -- just to make it into this match.

He said he felt less than at his strongest yesterday and went immediately to see a doctor after the match. He arrived an hour and a half late for his post-match interview, reportedly due to an ++ upset stomach, but when asked about his health immediately barked, "None of your business."

Later he modified that to "It's nothing to do with anything."

As to how he sees tomorrow's final between Sampras and Ivanisevic, Martin was a little more forthcoming.

"There are really only going to be a few opportunities here and there for them to break each other's serve," Martin said. "So I think it's the one who serves the best, but also the one who is strong enough up in the mind to make the most of those opportunities."

And tomorrow, there will be no Boris Becker to mix a little humor among the laser-like serves.

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