No-names dig new ground

Men's seeds sparse heading into quarters

July 04, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - Vladimir Voltchkov, come on down.

Jan-Michael Gambill, Alexander Popp and Byron Black, sign in please.

It's time to join the new men's tennis game show, the march of the non-seeds into Wimbledon's quarterfinals.

The no-names and anti-stars conquered Wimbledon yesterday, as Voltchkov, a 22-year-old qualifier from Belarus, ousted Wayne Ferreira, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-0), leading one of the unlikeliest fourth-round tournament charges in recent memory.

This was Wimbledon at its wackiest, non-seeds rolling through the draw, taut tennis dramas spread around the grounds, and the appearance of a 35-year-old male serial streaker, who paid a naked court call to watch Anna Kournikova in doubles. The man, Mark Roberts, has claimed to have streaked more than 156 times since 1994.

He was quickly escorted from the grounds by police, but announced that his lifetime goal is to streak at the Super Bowl.

They saved the best for last, though, with a Centre Court epic.

Mark Philippoussis, fresh off a 5-hour, 5-minute third-round marathon, went more than three hours and five sets with British star Tim Henman, and beat him, 6-1, 5-7, 6-7 (9-11), 6-3, 6-4.

Philippoussis hammered four of his 34 aces in the last game, finishing off with a 120-mph second-serve knockout, leaving Henman so frustrated that he smashed his racket on the heel of his right foot.

It's not every Wimbledon where a supposedly unflappable Brit loses his cool.

But then, all the rules are getting smashed this year.

Take Voltchkov.

While many players on the ATP Tour are born with silver rackets in their hands and an array of courts at their disposal, Voltchkov came up the hard way.

When he was 7 1/2 , his father started him playing on a red clay court located at an auto parts factory in Minsk.

"He was not a pro," Voltchkov said. "He was just working at a factory. We had a tennis club there, like a part of a factory."

The old Soviet system had a habit of producing a sprinkling of tennis stars. Voltchkov, who grew up at the end of the empire, was good enough to win a Wimbledon junior championship in 1996.

Now, he's stepping up from the Challenger circuit to the big time.

"When you play on the challenger level, there is a lot of pressure," he said. "There are 32 guys there. Everybody wants to win, to progress to a higher level where you start making the big points, big money. It's like a surviving zone."

He said grass brings out his best. Unfortunately, back in Belarus, he practices on what he calls "synthetic grass."

"It's different, but there's nothing to choose from," he said. "We have those courts, and that's where I get ready for the natural grass."

Next up for Voltchkov is Black, who defeated 35-year-old Italian left-hander Gianluca Pozzi, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4.

The good news for the eternally optimistic Gambill is he ousted the second-to-last seed remaining in the top of the draw, No. 9 Thomas Enqvist, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. The bad news is he now faces No. 1 Pete Sampras, who blasted Jonas Bjorkman, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.

"I'd say I'm one of the luckiest people on earth," Gambill said. "I get to go out there in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, play on Centre Court, play Pete Sampras, the king of Wimbledon, the best player to ever play the game."

Sampras, nursing a sore left shin, said there might be some players who have become a bit cynical about his array of injuries. It seems the more hurt he is, the better he plays.

"My opponents should just worry about playing me and not worry if I'm hurt or not," he said. "You know, my body has been fragile over the past couple of years. But this is our biggest tournament and I'm going to play it, do whatever I can to get to the weekend here."

In a battle between the tallest players on tour, each 6 feet 7, Popp defeated Marc Rosset, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1.

Afterward, Popp, whose mother is British but who was born, raised and now lives in Germany, was asked whether he was surprised to reach the quarters.

"Definitely," he said.

Popp next meets No. 12 Patrick Rafter, who defeated Thomas Johansson, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1.

No. 2 Andre Agassi made quick work of qualifier David Prinosil, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Now, he meets Australia's Scud, Philippoussis.

"I would like to know what it feels like to have Philippoussis hit a 128-mph second serve down set point," Agassi said.

He'll soon find out.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.