Subtlety lost on Ivanisevic and Sampras WIMBLEDON


WIMBLEDON, England -- Goran Ivanisevic is the one who still wants to join the club.

He hits aces. He wins matches. But he hasn't yet won Wimbledon or earned respect.

Today, though, he's the wild card in the men's semifinals at Wimbledon. All the glamour is centered on the match involving ex-champs Andre Agassi and Boris Becker.

But all the grit and muck of modern men's tennis will be featured in the Ivanisevic-Pete Sampras duel. This is two serves and a cloud of dust tennis. Sampras is the two-time reigning champion. Ivanisevic is the guy he beat in last year's final.

Super Serve II may not be much more enjoyable, but there could be a different result.

"There's not going to be a lot of rallies," Sampras said.

No kidding. Ivanisevic is on a roll with 137 aces. And Sampras is struggling.

"I think I can play him better than last year," Ivanisevic said. "And I don't think he can play like that again. I mean, last year, in the final, he just played too good. I couldn't do anything."

This year, though, Ivanisevic has done nearly everything right. Of the four semifinalists, he's the only one who has defeated seeded players. He hasn't dropped a set. He's only lost his serve twice in the entire tournament.

His only problem is that he doesn't know his own strength. He broke his racket against Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the quarterfinals.

"I was surprised how easy I broke the racket," he said. "There may be something wrong with the racket, or I'm too strong."

That sounds like bad news for Sampras. Overall, he may have a 6-5 lifetime advantage against Ivanisevic, but he can read the serving statistics and he can watch the videotape of Ivanisevic ,, laying waste to opponents.

"I feel I'm not going to give up my title that easily," Sampras said. "If I lose the first two sets, I'm not going to give up. I'm going to give it my best."

So will Becker. He's a big underdog. Becker went five sets in a quarterfinal with Cedric Pioline in a match he should have won in about 90 minutes. He's 27, which is 50 in tennis years. He's slow to the net. His serve no longer intimidates opponents.

But Wimbledon is his home.

There's only one problem: Becker hasn't beaten Agassi in their past eight meetings stretching over five years.

"Unfortunately, he hasn't a kind of serve where he pops it in and he gives you a free ride to the net," Becker said. "You have to work your way in. Usually, he's playing very deep on the rallies. It's not like you have a chance on your first shot to rush in."

But eventually, Becker will have to come to the net to have any hope of winning.

"Andre is on top of his game," Becker said. "The past five matches, he played excellent tennis. Hopefully, I can stay as long as possible in there, and make the last shot."

Good luck.

Agassi, the No. 1 seed, has been the player of the tournament. His passing shots have been leaving the Wimbledon crowds breathless and his opponents defenseless.

His sense of humor is also in high gear. Asked to compare this year with his 1992 title year, Agassi said:

"Well, one of the articles in the paper this time said I was short, fat, bald and ugly. I didn't get that criticism a few years ago."

Writers have also made note of Agassi's "transparent" floppy shorts, the rag atop his head and the teeny-tiny purse that his girlfriend, Brooke Shields, carries around.

Some have even made note of his tennis.

"On the tennis court, I feel great," he said. "It's just all coming together at the right time. When you play the big guns, it's important to be on this top level."

And Agassi is taking nothing for granted. He treats Becker with respect.

"Boris is one of the best players in the game and one of the most explosive players in the game," he said. "If there is one surface for sure not to take him for granted on, it's going to be here at Wimbledon. I will have my hands full."



* Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain, def. Conchita Martinez (3), Spain, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1.

* Steffi Graf (1), Germany, def. Jana Novotna (4), Czech Republic, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.


* * Graf vs. Sanchez Vicario


* Goran Ivanisevic (4), Croatia, vs. Pete Sampras (2), Tampa, Fla.

L * Boris Becker (3), Germany, vs. Andre Agassi (1), Las Vegas

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