WIMBLEDON, England -- They are like runaway bulls, dangerous to others, but potentially self-destructive. They have turned their opponents here at the All England Club into helpless, hopeless victims, no matter what their rank or reputation.
Yesterday, fifth seed Pete Sampras and eighth seed Goran Ivanisevic used their most lethal weapon -- a serve that is more than double the speed limit -- to pulverize the last two Wimbledon champions into a pair of flailing, failing fools.
Sampras combined power with precision in the opening quarterfinal match to crush defending champion and No. 3 seed Michael Stich of Germany with almost embarrassing ease, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Ivanisevic used mostly power to defeat two-time champion and No. 2 seed Stefan Edberg of Sweden, 6-7 (10-12), 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
The surprising victories advanced the Californian and the Croatian, both 20, into tomorrow's semifinals. Not bad for a couple of guys who were bounced in the very early rounds here a year ago. It also now means that the top three seeds in this year's draw are gone.
"To beat him in straight sets is good for my body," said Sampras, who lost to Derrick Rostagno in the second round last year after starting his career here with successive opening-round defeats. "I am extremely confident. I mean, in the semifinals, anything can happen, so I'm just going to give it my best shot. I feel really good about the way I am playing."
"I mean this week I'm really surprised," said Ivanisevic, who lost in the opening round last year to Nick Brown -- the 591st-ranked player in the world at the time -- after reaching the semifinals in 1990. "I played really steady. I mean concentrating really great, and really strong in the mind."
Though Sampras and Ivanisevic advanced with upsets, some of the other quarterfinalists were likely to be just left upset. John McEnroe couldn't be pleased that his match with ninth-seed Guy Forget of France was called at 5-all in the second set, with McEnroe having won the first and in total control.
Three-time champion and No. 4 seed Boris Becker couldn't have been thrilled, down two sets to one to 12th seed Andre Agassi, especially because he had come back to break Agassi and take a 4-3 lead in the fourth. Both matches will be resumed today, when the forecast calls for showers early.
Here's an interesting prospect: Of the four former men's champions who made it to the quarterfinals, unseeded McEnroe might be the only one left standing. Here's another intriguing possibility: three Americans in the semifinals for the first time in 10 years.
"To do well here and in the French [reaching the quarterfinals] has shown me that I can play well on any surface," said Sampras, who won the U.S. Open in 1990. "You know, there is a little bit of pressure on me. The first year I came here, I wasn't experienced on grass, never played grass-court tennis. I did not play well. I was going to come back here every year and give it my best shot. I kind of got the breaks this week and last week."
He certainly got the breaks yesterday against Stich. He broke Stich in the second game of the opening set and never looked back. Sampras broke him twice in the second set, including once at love. He broke Stich once more in the final set.
But it was the way Sampras tore into his serve, especially his second serve, that frustrated Stich. He only had nine aces, but his accuracy (94 percent first serves in the second set) was just as effective.
"I think he played the best match on grass [of his career]," Stich said. "He just . . . I mean he killed me."
Said Sampras: "It is definitely a mental thing with me. In the past couple of years, I felt grass is more of an equalizer. I can lose to anybody on any given day. Mentally this week and last week, I was really positive and serving really well."
Ivanisevic's game and game plan are basic. If he wins Wimbledon, he might revolutionize how little tennis players learn the game. Forget your ground strokes, kids, just work on that serve.
He had 33 aces against Edberg yesterday, giving him 133 in his first five matches. Though he blew three set points in the opening-set tiebreaker, Ivanisevic came up with some of his biggest serves in the most crucial spots of the match.
The year after
How the past 10 Wimbledon men's champions have fared the next year:
Year. ... Winner. ..... . ... Next year. . ........ .. ..... Round
1982. ....Jimmy Connors. .....Lost to Kevin Curran. .. .. .. Fourth
1983. . . John McEnroe. ......Beat Jimmy Connors. ....... .. Final
1984. .. .John McEnroe. .. .. Lost to Kevin Curran. ... Quarterfinals
1985. ....Boris Becker. ..... Beat Ivan Lendl. ............. Final
1986. ... Boris Becker. ..... Lost to Peter Doohan. ........ Second
1987. ... Pat Cash. ......... Lost to Boris Becker. ..... Quarterfinals
1988. ... Stefan Edberg. .... Lost to Boris Becker. .........Final
1989. ....Boris Becker. ..... Lost to Stefan Edberg.. .......Final
1990.. ...Stefan Edberg. .... Lost to Michael Stich. . ..... Semifinals
1991. ... Michael Stich. .... Lost to Pete Sampras . . Quarterfinals