Giant Norman wins one for Wimbledon little guys

June 30, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun

WIMBLEDON, England -- This was a win for the tennis bush-leaguers, the guys who are out on the satellite tours, playing on cracked courts, living on lousy food and earning crummy pay.

Yesterday, a 6-foot-8, 24-year-old, red-haired tennis nobody from Waregem, Belgium, became a Wimbledon somebody.

Dick Norman beat Stefan Edberg in Wimbledon's second round, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. He made Edberg, a two-time Wimbledon champion and the No. 13 seed, look like just another old man with a 5 o'clock shadow and a few extra pounds.

Norman, who couldn't even get out of the Wimbledon qualifiers without a loss, now has beaten two ex-Wimbledon champs in the first two rounds. Tuesday, he ousted Pat Cash, who had to default with an injury. Yesterday, he punished Edberg with slam-dunk serves, moved him side to side with volleys and sent him into tennis Palookaville with a smash and a snarl.

"He's like a giant," Edberg said. "You feel like David and Goliath out there."

Goliath won, and became the story of Wimbledon on a day when a chunk of the men's draw was left in shambles.

Fifth seed Michael Chang fell to Petr Korda, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

No. 11 Jim Courier sulked and moaned and generally looked horrible in a loss to Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Is this American having fun playing tennis? Of course not.

And No. 15 Andrei Medvedev was dumped by Jeff Tarango, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.

About the only thing that went right was the Centre Court debut of No. 1 Andre Agassi. The stars turned out, though most Britons didn't even know who they were. Hockey player Wayne Gretzky was there. A steward shook his head in amazement when told Gretzky was nearly as famous in America as Agassi. Brooke Shields, Agassi's girlfriend, was also there. Wasn't she an actress or something, one cop wanted to know. And there was a McEnroe on Centre Court, too. Patrick McEnroe was the foil, as Agassi won, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3.

Afterward, Agassi was asked about his clothes, his marriage plans and his "Wimbledon grunge" hairstyle. He said he has been wearing a do-rag atop his head for years. He had "zero comment" about marrying Shields. As for what's left of his hair, he said: "You just get yourself a pair of scissors and take it as

close as you can."

So much for the comic relief.

It was the Norman Conquest that dominated Wimbledon. Belgium produces cyclists, chocolates and lace, but few tennis players.

But Norman comes from a tennis family. He's a wall guy, one of those kids who bashed tennis balls against a wall while his mother, Kris, taught beginner's lessons. His father, Beni, is an engineer and avid player who is not even at Wimbledon this week because he's running a local tournament back home.

"A lot of people ask me if I'm a basketball player," Norman said. "I have to explain."

He likes a lot of sports. Soccer. Swimming. Even snooker. He tried basketball for two years as a teen-ager, "but the team was too quick." So he settled on tennis. Then came his 17th year, "when everyone stopped growing and I just continued," he said. The late growth spurt put too much stress on his knees.

Finally, 1 1/2 years ago, he underwent double knee surgery. He ran without pain. He started to use his height and strength to play good tennis again. But he was stuck in the rut of life on the satellite tour.

"I always was a little bit jealous when friends of mine went to the top," he said. "I'd say, 'Oh, shoot, why can't it be me?' "

Norman decided that this would be his make-or-break year, gearing the season around Wimbledon, entering the qualifying tournament and facing what he called "a pretty tough draw."

Norman got to the qualifying final, where he lost to Sandon Stolle. Then, based on his overall ranking of 176, he had to wait around Sunday for main-draw players to come up injured. Four did. So this "lucky loser" found himself with a first-round match against 1987 Wimbledon winner Cash, who, along with John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, was one of his tennis idols.

"I was nervous against Cash," Norman said. "But I knew I had a good chance. I beat him in a doubles semifinal last year."

And he beat him again. Cash quit with a twisted ankle after losing a first-set tiebreaker.

Then came Edberg, and Norman wasn't nervous. It was Edberg, 29, who looked old and burned out. And here was Norman, rushing the net, taking out another ex-champion.

Third seed Boris Becker, a two-time champ who beat Jan Apell in four sets yesterday, had better look out. He could meet Norman in the round of 16.

"Before, when I would beat a better player, I'd feel sorry for him," Norman said.

"Not anymore. Everyone is playing. The best one wins."


Centre Court

Arnaud Boetsch, France, vs. Goran Ivanisevic (4), Croatia; Zina Garrison Jackson, Houston, vs. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain; Yevgeny Kafelnikov (6), Russia, vs. Alexander Volkov, Russia

Court 1

Greg Rusedski, Britain, vs. Olivier Delaitre, France; Anke Huber (9), Germany, vs. Chanda Rubin, Lafayette, La.; Jared Palmer, Tampa, Fla., vs. Pete Sampras (2), Tampa, Fla.

Other seeded players

Court 2

Shaun Stafford, Gainesville, Fla., vs. Conchita Martinez (3), Spain

Court 4

Radka Zrubakova, Slovakia, vs. Brenda Schultz-McCarthy (15), Netherlands

Court 13

Gabriela Sabatini (8), Argentina, vs. Nancy Feber, Belgium

Court 14

Todd Martin (14), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., vs. Derrick Rostagno, Pacific Palisades, Calif.; Naoko Sawamatsu (14), Japan, vs. Petra Kamstra, Netherlands.

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