In case anyone confused the two, Pete Sampras emphatically declared on opening day of Wimbledon, “I have nothing in common with Deion Sanders.”
Sampras, the one without the gold chains and the handkerchief on his head, felt moved to distance himself from the San Francisco 49ers star when asked if he would say of Wimbledon what Sanders said of Atlanta on his return for a game last season: “This is my house!”
Boasting and strutting have never been part of Sampras’ style, but for the past two years in his championship runs Wimbledon has, indeed, seemed like his home, a place where he could settle in comfortably on the grass for a fortnight each summer.
On Monday, though, Sampras seemed more of a stranger on the sweltering Centre Court, slipping and sliding to a shaky 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (7-2), 6-4, 6-1 victory over Karsten Braasch, a left-handed German who looked as if he were swatting flies while winding up to serve.
Sampras is trying to become the first American to win three straight Wimbledons - and the first player since Bjorn Borg won five in a row - but the combination of the slick surface and Braasch’s quirky serves nearly led to a different niche in Wimbledon history for him. Not since Manuel Santana was knocked off by Charlie Pasarell 28 years ago had the champion gone out before tea on the first day.
Braasch, born a year later, threatened to equal that upset with a serving motion that had Sampras flummoxed. Besides the three stages of swatting that Braasch performed before he served the ball, he hopped along the baseline at the same time and alternately grunted, howled and berated himself throughout the match.
“There were times when I felt I had handcuffs on returns of serves,” said Sampras, who did some handcuffing of his own with 20 aces at up to 127 mph. “I felt like I really didn’t get into a great rhythm today. I was struggling a little bit to find the form I really wanted to be in.”
As odd as he seemed, Braasch had eight aces in the first two sets and came up with spectacular angled shots to win the second-set tiebreaker after dropping the first tiebreaker.
“After I lost that second set, I wasn’t exactly a happy camper,” Sampras said. “I needed to regain my composure and, hopefully, start to string in a couple of returns. I didn’t get a good rhythm out there until I broke him in the third (at 5-4). Then I relaxed a bit and started to play a bit better.”
As Braasch faded in the fourth set, Sampras cranked up his serves and closed out the match with another ace.
The new heavier and softer balls, designed to lengthen rallies, didn’t appear to affect the number of aces served on the first day. Nor did they seem to make much difference in the style of play. Most points still went quickly with short rallies, just the way they always have on grass.
No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic, who lost in the final to Sampras last year and to Andre Agassi three years ago, served 21 aces to overpower Sebastien Lareau 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
Todd Martin, seeded No. 14, also served 21 aces in beating Nicolas Pereira 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5. Michael Chang, No. 5, flexed his improved serve for 14 aces in beating Lionel Roux.
In other men’s matches, American grass-court specialist Bryan Shelton ousted 12th-seeded Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in straight sets, 7-6 (7-2), 6-3, 6-3.
Wayne Ferreira, seeded No. 7, advanced with a 6-2, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, win over Daniel Vacek; No. 16 Guy Forget was a 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) victor over Gary Henderson.
Forget, one of the fastest servers, had only five aces but was quite happy with the new balls.
Mats Wilander, back at Wimbledon for the first time since 1989, has a style suited to the new balls and had little trouble sweeping past Mark Petchey, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1, 6-2. Aaron Krickstein came from two sets down to beat Sweden’s Christian Bergstrom, 4-6, 0-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-2.
In women’s play, 11th-seeded Iva Majoli was the first upset victim, losing 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, to Angelica Gavaldon.
Sixth-seeded Kimiko Date beat Sabine Appelmans 6-4, 6-2; No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini beat Lea Ghirardi 6-3, 6-4; No. 12 Amy Frazier downed Stephanie Rottier, 6-4, 7-5; No. 15 Brenda Shultz-McCarthy rebounded to defeat Radka Bobkova, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-1; and No. 16 Helena Sukova beat Sandra Cecchini 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Wimbledon Opening-day highlights at Wimbledon: Winners: Men - No. 2 Pete Sampras, No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic, No. 5 Michael Chang, No. 7 Wayne Ferreira, No. 14 Todd Martin, No. 16 Guy Forget. Women - No. 6 Kimiko Date, No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini, No. 12 Amy Frazier, No. 15 Brenda SchultzMcCarthy and No. 16 Helena Sukova. Upsets: Bryan Shelton defeated No. 12 Richard Krajicek and Angelica Gavaldon ousted No. 11 Iva Majoli.