Henman has last word in epic against Courier

Briton's win spans 4 1/2 hours over 3 days

July 01, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- They were coming to the end of their epic match, Jim Courier fading, Tim Henman lunging, Wimbledon coming to life yesterday as the rain clouds parted and the stars went back to play.

For 4 hours and 30 minutes, in a tug of war that stretched over three days of sun, rain and wind, they had slugged it out, exposing their frailties and their hearts, reminding everyone why Centre Court remains the great tennis stage.

And when it ended, there was Henman at the net, slamming a forehand volley off the scarred grass, the ball bouncing harmlessly away from Courier and the crowd roaring for the last British hope, roaring for an improbable Henman triumph, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 9-7.

"That's good entertainment value for the fans, and it's great stuff for us, I think," Courier said. The 4 1/2-hour match was among the longest in Wimbledon history, and it was the third straight five-setter for Courier.

Wimbledon was unfurled in all its grandeur in a men's round of 16 that was doused with history and drama as matches were spread across the vast All England Club.

There was Boris Becker, the three-time winner, staging a second and final Wimbledon retirement after losing to No. 2 Patrick Rafter, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Becker bowed and waved and bid Centre Court farewell. "It was a great love affair, to tell you the truth," he said. "You know, it was like nowhere else in the world."

Over on an obscure outer court, No. 8 Todd Martin, in the midst of a career rebirth, ousted No. 10 Goran Ivanisevic, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-4. And later, Martin talked of trying to "keep a low profile and go about my business," something that will be difficult when he meets Rafter in today's quarterfinals.

On Court 2, the so-called graveyard of champions, was No. 1 Pete Sampras. But the five-time winner routed Daniel Nestor, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, to move into the quarterfinals against Mark Philippoussis.

Philippoussis, the Australian known as "The Scud" for his big serves, silenced the Court 1 crowd as he defeated Britain's Greg Rusedski, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-1.

And almost slipping through unnoticed to the quarterfinals was France's Cedric Pioline, who upset No. 13 Karol Kucera of Slovakia, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-3.

But Pioline won't escape so easily today. He'll meet Henman, whose family roots run deep at Wimbledon.

With each year, Henman has raised his game and raised hopes among the local faithful that he can become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Last year, Sampras beat him in the semis. But this year, the dream nearly ended against Courier, whose baseball cap and fiery determination are often at odds with Wimbledon's staid environment.

On Monday, Henman won two of the first three sets and remained on serve into the fourth, before rain interrupted play for nearly 48 hours. Courier said he was relieved there was a break.

"It was like an alien abduction out there; someone invaded his body and turned him into the greatest volleyer in the universe," Courier said.

Yesterday, Henman came back to earth. He lost the fourth-set tiebreaker and nearly fell apart in the fifth. Serving at 5-6, 15-40, he saved three match points and escaped from the near-disastrous game with an ace.

Finally, he held his nerve by breaking Courier in the 15th game, slamming a backhand crosscourt that Courier thought was out and nailing down the break with a forehand volley. And then, he held serve to finish off Courier.

"He doesn't know when he is beaten," Henman said of his rival.

There was at least one player at Wimbledon who knew it was time to say goodbye.

Two years after his first Wimbledon retirement, Becker packed his bags and left for the final time, his career due to end for keeps later this month after one last appearance in Stuttgart, Germany.

It was a bittersweet moment for Becker, who won three finals, lost four, and brought power and grace into modern men's tennis.

"I have been here a long, long time," Becker said. "The place was always very special to me. It made me who I am today and gave me all the possibilities, all the freedom."

Does he have one special memory of Wimbledon?

"I have so many memories, so many things, and if I think fast my mind is like a train now and I couldn't recollect one particular moment," he said. "But it has been an incredible ride."

Men's singles, fourth round

Pete Sampras (1) def. Daniel Nestor, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

Pat Rafter (2) def. Boris Becker, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.

Tim Henman (6) def. Jim Courier, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 9-7.

Mark Philippoussis (7) def. Greg Rusedski (9), 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-1.

Todd Martin (8) def. Goran Ivanisevic (10), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-4.

Cedric Pioline def. Karol Kucera (13), 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-3.

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