The famous and the obscure are mingling on the lawns of Wimbledon, champions seeking rare places in history and strangers banging through the black iron gates of the most exclusive club in tennis.
Pete Sampras hurdled a chair and leaped atop a tall ball bin while reaching the quarterfinals Tuesday in his bid for a fourth straight title. Steffi Graf needed no such acrobatics as she slipped effortlessly into the women’s semifinals and closer to a seventh Wimbledon championship and 20th Grand Slam triumph.
Then there were the dreamers who joined them, like Alexander Radulescu and MaliVai Washington, Meredith McGrath and Kimiko Date.
In this anything-can-happen year, when only three seeded men reached the quarters for the first time in the Open era, most of the matches have been as unpredictable as the weather.
No. 10 Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion and runner-up at the French Open last month, became the latest men’s seed to fall when he was beaten by Richard Krajicek 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4.
Krajicek, a first-round loser here the past two years, didn’t sound all that confident about going up next against Sampras, a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victor over Cedric Pioline.
“Most of the time you’re happy if you just get it back in play and put pressure on the guy,” Krajicek said.
If Sampras plays the way he did against Pioline, the Frenchman he beat for the 1993 U.S. Open title, Krajicek will be lucky to take a set.
Sampras made the hard shots look easy, and the impossible shots conceivable. On one point early in the third set, Pioline hit a sharply angled backhand that Sampras chased down at full speed. Though seemingly out of Sampras’ reach, he caught up to the ball, stretched for a backhand and nearly crashed into the obstacles in his path - the biggest a cylindrical metal ball bin the size of a large garbage can.
“I had only once place to go, and that was up, over the chair, and I landed on the ball bin and kind of tweaked my back a little bit,” Sampras said. “A little bit of a scary situation there.”
That was the only scare Sampras has had this tournament as he closes in on Bjorn Borg’s Open-era record of five straight Wimbledon titles. No other man has won four Wimbledons in a row since before World War I.
The thought of winning even one Wimbledon had some players trembling.
“I just stopped shaking about five minutes ago,” a stunned McGrath said after upsetting Mary Joe Fernandez 6-3, 6-1 to advance to the semis against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who beat Judith Wiesner 6-4, 6-0.
McGrath, a first-round loser at Wimbledon last year, had gone as far as the fourth round only once in 18 previous Grand Slam events. Her ranking has fluctuated from the 20s two years ago to the 60s last year and back to No. 27 now. Attributing her surge here this year to hard work with a new coach, McGrath didn’t sound in awe of playing Sanchez Vicario, last year’s runner-up.
“I don’t want to say I’m honored to be in the company of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario because, unfortunately, I have to beat her in a couple of days,” said McGrath, a former Stanford star from Michigan who has been living in Switzerland for three years.”
Date looked pretty calm after beating a listless and lazy Mary Pierce 2-6, 6-3, 6-1, as well she should when faced with the prospect of next playing Graf, a 6-3, 6-2 winner against Jana Novotna. Graf has beaten Novotna in 25 of their 28 matches.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AT A GLANCE Men’s singles, fourth round: No.1 Pete Sampras, No. 13 Todd Martin, MaliVai Washington and Alexander Radulescu all advanced. Women’s singles, quarterfinals: No. 1 Steffi Graf, No. 4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and No. 12 Kimiko Date all advanced. Upsets: Richard Krajicek beat No. 10 Michael Stich and Meredith McGrath beat No. 9 Mary Joe Fernandez.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.