Greg Rusedski, a Canadian until May, tried to rally Britain behind him, waving the Union Jack and smiling endlessly on Centre Court through three rounds.
With every Wimbledon victory, his grin grew wider and, to some players, more annoying. And there he was Monday, still smiling against Pete Sampras, chatting with the madly cheering crowd, trying to get the defending champion to lighten up.
But Sampras didn’t win two straight Wimbledon titles by laughing his way to the finals, and his serious demeanor never wavered during a 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 dismissal of Rusedski.
“I noticed him smiling,” Sampras said dryly. “I was trying to wipe the smile off his face.”
To which Rusedski responded: “I’m sorry to say he’s never going to wipe that smile off my face, no matter what.”
When pressed about whether he and other players in the locker room felt Rusedski had gotten a bit big for his britches, Sampras pulled down his cap to hide his own smile and let his silence speak volumes. An official said, “You needn’t comment.”
Sampras didn’t comment on that, but he did slip in a needle when he mentioned the Montreal-born Rusedski “got his hometown fans behind him.”
Clearly, Sampras wanted to get the threat of Rusedski, with his smiles and 130 mph serves, out of the way in as businesslike manner as possible, especially after a collision with a courtside camera while he chased down a ball in the second set.
“It was a big point, love-15, and he had an opportunity to get a love-30 point,” Sampras said. “He had a good shot, I went for it, had a slide and went head first into the cameras. I don’t know if it’s the brightest thing I have ever done, but I tried to get it.
“My head hit the lens and my arm … is a little bit red.”
Sampras shook it off, held service, then broke Rusedski to take a 4-2 lead. Sampras had only nine aces to Rusedski’s 13, but never lost service as he won his 18th straight match at Wimbledon.
“He played with a lot of emotion, a lot of confidence this week,” Sampras said in assessing Rusedski’s potential. “He’s obviously got a big serve, but you get it back (and) he’s pretty average. He doesn’t really return that well. He’s got some time to improve, but he has a couple of holes in his game.”
Sampras was joined in the quarterfinals by No. 1 Andre Agassi, a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victor over Alexander Mronz; No. 3 Boris Becker, who beat Dick Norman 7-6 (8-6) 6-3, 6-4; and No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic, who outslugged No. 14 Todd Martin 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3).
Also reaching the quarters were No. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Jacco Eltingh, Cedric Pioline and Shuzo Matsuoka, the first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam quarters since Jiro Sato made it to the semis in 1933.
In women’s play, top-seeded Steffi Graf, defending champion Conchita Martinez and No. 2 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario all advanced in straight sets.
Mary Joe Fernandez, the 13th seed, took control after winning a tight first set and beat her best friend, No. 7 Lindsay Davenport, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1. As the two hugged at the net, Fernandez said she was sorry. Both players were sullen after the match.
“The last game was a little sad,” Fernandez said. “I wanted to win, and at the same time, I didn’t want her to lose.”
The two trained together in Miami for two weeks, then flew to London together for another week of practice before Wimbledon.
“She’s like my sister,” Davenport said. “It was weird. We both felt sorry for each other in the first set.”
Also reaching the women’s quarters were No. 4 Jana Novotna, No. 6 Kimiko Date, No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini and No. 15 Brenda Shultz-McCarthy. Date became the first Japanese woman in Wimbledon history to reach the quarters.
Novotna overcame one of her trademark lapses in beating Nicole Bradtke 6-0, 5-7, 6-4. She was leading 6-0 and serving at 4-3 when Bradtke rallied to force a third set. But Novotna held firm in the third set, getting the key break in the sixth game.
In a match of swinging momentum, Sabatini outlasted Lisa Raymond 6-0, 3-6, 7-5.
Agassi ripped 23 baseline winners in overwhelming Mronz in 85 minutes.
“I was on top of my game today,” Agassi said. “I controlled the backcourt well. I could afford to wait for the right opportunity. I didn’t have to take too many chances. I’m passing and lobbing really well.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AT A GLANCE Highlights of Monday’s play at the $9.6 million Wimbledon tennis championships: Results - Men’s fourth round: No. 1 Andre Agassi, No. 2 Pete Sampras, No. 3 Boris Becker, No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic and No. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov advanced. Women’s fourth round: No. 1 Steffi Graf, No. 2 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, No. 3 Conchita Martinez, No. 4 Jana Novotna, No. 6 Kimiko Date, No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini, No. 13 Mary Joe Fernandez, No. 15 Brench Scultz-McCarthy advanced. Upsets - Jacco Eltingh defeated men’s No. 7 Wayne Ferreira 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. Fernandez beat women’s No. 7 Lindsay Davenport 7-6 (8-6), 6-1. Stat of the Day - The 12th game of the first set between Fernandez and Davenport contained 28 points, 11 deuces, six set points for Fernandez and seven break points for Davenport. Davenport won the game, but lost the match. Quotes of the Day - “I was trying to wipe the smile off his face.” - Sampras, after his straight-set victory over psyched-up Brit Greg Rusedski. “I’m sorry to say he’s never going to wipe the smile off my face no matter what.” - Rusedski’s reponse.
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