WIMBLEDON, England -- Boris Becker's serve went "poof" instead of "boom" and Stefan Edberg bowed out politely yesterday, leaving Centre Court to two big-serving Americans who promise their own brand of fireworks on the Fourth of July.
The top two players in the world, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier, will meet in the Wimbledon men's final tomorrow, promising the All England Club a new member.
Sampras, showing no shoulder problems, blasted his way past a slow and struggling Becker, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4.
Courier made the final by taking control in the second set to win, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, over Edberg, whose serve was not in the same class.
This will be the first All-American men's final since 1984, when John McEnroe defeated Jimmy Connors, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2, and the first time the top two players in the world have met on Centre Court since 1982, when No. 2 Connors beat No. 1 McEnroe.
"It's hard for me to believe Pete has shoulder problems. Very hard," said Becker. "I think the only problem is that he sometimes doesn't know the difference between a first and second serve. He hit them both really hard."
So hard, that Becker could not consistently return Sampras' bullets. Combine that with his sluggishness and the fact that his own serve deserted him, and Becker never had a chance.
"Boris was just a little bit off," said Sampras, who said his shoulder didn't hurt during the match. "And I think I played just about as well as I could. Now I'm one match away and I'm going to give it my best shot."
Becker had break points in the second and third sets, but every time there was a big point, Sampras came up with the big second serve, usually a wide slice to Becker's backhand.
On other days, Becker might have dived for those balls. But yesterday, his tennis togs stayed pearly white. There were no miracle dives, no grass stains, no dramatic tumbles to create a winner out of nothing.
There was only the dominance of Sampras and his unbreakable serve.
And when Becker's own serve, which had been encouragingly accurate throughout the tournament, deserted him, Sampras moved in for the kill.
Once, in the third game of the second set, Wimbledon's No. 1 seed had to make only one shot to break Becker, as the three-time champion double-faulted three times. He had 12 double faults in the match.
"I was a step slow," said Becker. "I didn't move as well as I did in my previous matches. The [five-set] match with [Michael] Stich was too tough, maybe. And my whole draw, every time I had a tough opponent and had to go four sets all the time, whereas, you know, Pete and all the other guys, apart from one match in the tournament, they won all the time in three sets.
"And on my serve, the problem, I think, was my legs," Becker continued, explaining why there was only a beep where the boom used to be. "I didn't get up to my serve. My legs were not as strong as they were in the past couple of matches, and that's why I served so many double faults. I couldn't get up, and that put my timing off."
In yesterday's other semifinal, it took Courier about a set and a half to figure out Edberg. Once he did, there was no stopping him.
"When you play Jim on grass like this -- very dry, very hard grass -- you may be able to break him once, at the most twice in a set," Edberg said. "So the real key factor is being able to hold your own serve, and I couldn't do that."
At least not after the first set. Edberg actually came out and took control, winning the first set 6-4. But in the second he started missing his first serve and "Jim climbed all over me for a while."
Every time Edberg made a mistake, Courier was there to collect. In the 10th game of the final set, when Edberg was serving to stay in the match at 5-4, he put simple back-to-back backhand and forehand shots -- "shots I did not know even existed," -- into the net and followed them up with two double faults. Courier cashed in. Game, set, match.
"I'm pretty surprised to be here," Courier said of his date with Sampras in the final. "I thought I'd be home in Florida by now, playing golf with my dad."