Quiet men of tennis thank Agassi aloud Edberg, Sampras don't want spotlight

June 27, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- The game of tennis is so refined. Men and women dressed in white, stroking yellow tennis balls back and forth on manicured green grass, in front of respectfully silent crowds.

Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras fit right in.

Of course, there have been players to throw in a wrench-- Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and even Boris Becker, when he arrived at Wimbledon, a brash, go-for-the-grass-stain 17-year-old.

But none took on the persona of a rock star the way Andre Agassi has.

The defending Wimbledon champion thrives in the glare of fame, seemingly leaving his rivals in the dark.

"I love having guys around like Andre," said Edberg, a polite, pensive man.

"I can go on and do my business and play the tennis while Andre takes the attention away. That's the way I am."

Neither Edberg nor Sampras seems insulted that other players appear more entertaining. They shrug and say they are respected.

What more could anyone ask?

When someone mentioned to Edberg that he has the personality of an iceberg, he simply agreed.

"It's hard to change the personality you have," Edberg said. "I think it's a bit late for me to try.

"But the way I look at it, I entertain the way I play tennis. I mean, some people like to watch people like me, where we go on about the business and play the tennis that I do. You need different kinds of players. You know, you need the good guys and you need the bad guys.

"That is the perfect solution for bringing interest to the game of tennis, and it's good that you have a guy like Agassi, because he really does draw a lot of attention."

Yesterday, Edberg played his idea of the perfect opponent.

Chris Wilkinson of Britain attracted all the attention, and dived all over to make brilliant shots. He seemed able to break Edberg at will. But the cool two-time Wimbledon champion broke back and won, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.

"The British crowd got going for sure," Edberg said. "They can be pretty noisy. So, I said to myself before I went out there, 'Don't let anything disturb you and just get on doing what you do best.' "

Wilkinson, of course, was a passing phenomenon. Agassi is a constant. At Wimbledon, you don't even have to see him to know he is here.

When Becker was in the midst of beating Jakob Hlasek on Court 1 Friday, he knew Agassi had left the locker room and was leaving the area.

"All I had to do was follow the sounds of the screams," he said.

"I think I have to cut some hair off my chest and then I get the same kind of attention. But that's fine with me."

The adulation of Agassi has absolutely confounded Sampras, who is the world's No. 1 player.

"But Andre is definitely doing something to the people that I've never seen anyone really do before," Sampras said.

"I mean, even his practices are just packed, and I've never seen that."

While Sampras reads headlines in the London Daily Mirror: "For Pete's sake cheer up: Sampras such a bore", Agassi has become the media darling, entertaining everyone with his secret and revolutionary idea of how to remove body hair.

"It's just not my nature to really enjoy all the attention," Sampras said. "Andre, when he plays out there, it's different. I'm trying to do what I have to do to win. Andre has this love affair with the crowd, which is pretty special for him.

"But I don't have to be on the front page of the papers here. What's important to me is trying to win."

But extremes attract attention at Wimbledon. Agassi gets it for flamboyance. Edberg for coolness. Sampras for dullness.

There is no doubt Sampras is one of Edberg's good guys. He donates money to medical research, chairs the players' charity fund and even smiles, sometimes.

But he is decidedly bland. Fans sit silently through his matches, searching their pockets for No-Doze.

"I know I sort of keep my head down and look at my feet between points," Sampras said. "I'm obviously looking down for money or something."

He is never going to ignite the avalanche of screams and sighs Agassi does. Together, he and Edberg will never generate such fan passion. And they're not going to try.

"I appreciate Andre getting the attention," Sampras said. "It's a pretty stressful couple of weeks here, and I'm just happy the attention is going to him and not to me. I'm very happy with that."

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