Top gun Andre Agassi, who would be Wimbledon’s darling even if he wore a paper bag over his head and an outfit that fit, hasn’t been traumatized by being called “short, fat, bald, and ugly” in one London publication.
Pete Sampras, the two-time defending champion, is visibly vexed by the Euro-media’s insistence on comparing him to a robot.
Boris Becker’s been written off as a has-been just because he decided “you can’t be a teenager forever” and had the temerity to marry and start a family. And Goran Ivanisevic is routinely castigated for marring these serene surroundings with his touchy temperament.
But it’s actually not such a motley male quartet that has landed itself in Wimbledon’s semifinal round on today. Of the four seeded players at this Grand Slam event, only Ivanisevic, a two-time finalist, has not yet prevailed on Center Court on the final Sunday. And only the Croatian has yet to be ranked No. 1.
So it’s no surprise, despite all the external critiquing, that this year’s semifinalists are a remarkably selfassured group.
Agassi can console himself that, sex appeal or not, he has got Brooke Shields in his corner and the best return in the business right at his fingertips.
The man in the translucent shorts has been scaring the pants off every opponent: first serves, second serves, they all look like beach balls to him.
Becker, who burst onto this scene at 17, owns three Wimbledon titles and seems always on the verge of adding one more. He can console himself that, over-the-hill or not, he was the sole survivor of the 4-hour five-setter that put im just two matches away from the title that has been, is, and always will be his tennis raison d’etre.
Along with his untrustworthy temper, Ivanisevic has his aces, and plenty of them. He slammed 33 past Yevgeny Kafelnikov on Wednesday, then said there are plenty more where they came from. And the multifaceted man from Split has piled up sufficient replacement racquets to take the place of those he can’t resist breaking when the destructive spirit moves him.
In Ivanisevic, Sampras is facing the same man he defeated in straight sets in last year’s final. The American has yet to peak here, but he is more passionate about retaining this title than his detractors suggest.
If he’s a robot, he’s a robot with a heart, and his heart is into winning a third consecutive title this year as a get-well gift for his ailing coach, Tim Gullikson.
“I’m not going to give up my title that easily. If I lose the first two sets on Friday, I’m not going to give up,” said Sampras, now undefeated in his last 17 matches on grass, but aware that Ivanisevic’s serve seems to be in better working order than his own.
“I don’t need more power; it’s enough,” the Croat said of his form heading into the same round where he defeated Sampras in the 1992 Wimbledon. “It’s better that I play him in the semis than in the final. It’s less pressure for me. I mean, last year in the final he just played too good. I couldn’t do anything.”
Becker hasn’t done anything the last eight times he has put his power game on the line against Agassi’s baseline boldness. In fact, he hasn’t defeated the Las Vegan since 1989, but Agassi claimed to be properly respectful of the legend of Boom Boom Becker.
“I don’t care what the last X amount of matches have been,” Agassi said. “Boris is, by no question in my mind, one of the best players in the game, one of the most explosive players in the game, and if there’s any surface for sure not to take him for granted on, it’s going to be Centre Court here at Wimbledon. I’m going to have my hands full out there.”