Upstart Yankee sends Hewitt down under

Gambill's surprise win stirs up men's draw

June 28, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - With his fiery forehands, flying blond ponytail and baggy white outfits, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt headed to Wimbledon with the goods to be a champ and a star.

He routed Pete Sampras in a grass-court tuneup and was the bookmakers' second choice to take Wimbledon.

But yesterday, Hewitt, the No. 7 seed, ran straight into an unassuming, underrated American named Jan-Michael Gambill and was beaten, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, one of the big shocks of Wimbledon's opening round.

"I just had one of those days," Hewitt said. "I struggled off the ground the whole day."

Hewitt slipped on the slick Centre Court grass. He was caught on his heels by Gambill's relentless power game. And he finally wilted in the third set as Gambill ran the table by running off the last five games.

"I knew I had to come out and put the ball deep and hard and dig well," Gambill said.

He did it all, helping bring Wimbledon to life on a bright, beautiful British summer day, as the men's draw moved into high gear.

Andre Agassi got a first-set wakeup call before beating qualifier with a pedigree Taylor Dent, whose father, Phil, was a one-time Australian Open finalist. Dent retired with strained right knee at 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, 4-0.

"I'm definitely focused, I'm definitely excited to be here," Agassi said. `But I need some good things to happen."

Three-time Wimbledon finalist Goran Ivanisevic served 30 aces but lost to Arnaud Clement, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Patrick Rafter, the two-time U.S. Open champion who underwent shoulder surgery in October, defeated Jamie Delgado, 6-3, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1.

"If I can get fit again then I can play good tennis and be competitive at the Slams again," Rafter said. `That's really what I want to do, get to that stage again."

Tim Henman, Britain's only realistic hope to advance far into the tournament, wobbled in the first set but defeated Paradorn Srichaphan, 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.

"Wimbledon does bring out something in me," Henman said.

With a new attitude, new coach and new association with former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, Mark Philippoussis returned to Wimbledon and defeated qualifier Jurgen Melzer, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-4.

He was nervous, couldn't eat lunch, but eventually blasted his rival off the court. Wimbledon has been waiting years for Philippoussis to develop.

By taking advice from Becker and teaming with the old champ's former coach, Mike DePalmer, Philippoussis is trying to solve the riddle of winning on grass.

Philippoussis said Becker told him: "If you want to become a champion, you have to start living like one, day in and day out. You've got to be a role model. Obviously, some kids look up to you, and you've got to show them how excited you are about the tennis game and why they should look up to you."

Philippoussis said he plans to make some more changes in his life, such as move from Florida back to Australia, shed his collection of fast cars and, perhaps, fulfill a dream and "buy like 20 acres and build a house."

Another player Wimbledon insiders have high hopes for is Hewitt. His opening-round match against Gambill was one of those enticing features that Centre Court frequently tosses up in the first week, two young players bidding for stardom.

There was Hewitt, the Australian Agassi, quick on his feet with unusual power off the ground.

And there was Gambill, 23, steady yet stuck on a career plateau, the youngest American in the top 100 two years running.

Gambill got an early service break in the first set, and the 19-year-old Hewitt kept chasing him as he slid over the slippery Centre Court surface.

"He's a great player," Hewitt said of Gambill. "He's got a very big game. If he's on, he's very big."

Gambill muscled up on his serves and showed that he has the power to contend in Wimbledon's early rounds.

"I think the more I play Slams, the better I'm going to do in them," Gambill said. "I think I can be up there. I think I can play well in these tournaments."

He did for a day, and it was enough to beat a star on the rise.

NOTE: French Open runner-up Magnus Norman eased into the second round when Australia's Mark Woodforde quit in the third set. The third-seeded Swede was leading 6-4, 6-2, 2-0 when Woodforde was forced to stop because of back trouble. It wasn't immediately known whether the injury would force Woodforde from the doubles, where he and Todd Woodbridge are seeded No. 1.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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