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Wimbledon men's winner difficult to predict
Martyn Herman | June 20, 2003 12:06 IST
Lleyton Hewitt's stunning Wimbledon triumph last year ended two decades of serve and volley dominance at the grasscourt slam and it may be some years before that trend returns.
Gone are the days when Pete Sampras was king and you could select a men's winner from a list of maybe three or four players.
The American seven-times winner will no doubt be a curious armchair fan at home in Beverly Hills this year, while among the other grasscourt specialists, God has stopped listening to injury-prone Goran Ivanisevic, Pat Rafter is enjoying family life in Bermuda and Richard Krajicek quit the sport on Thursday.
Roger Federer is the only one of this year's top four seeds who can be considered a serve-volleyer while four-times semi-finalist Tim Henman is down in 10th spot after playing catch-up from shoulder surgery.
Tipping a winner is further complicated by the fact that top seed Hewitt enters the tournament fighting for form and by the suspicion that world number one Andre Agassi, seeded two, could be blown away by the game's new breed of big hitters.
Agassi, crushed in the second round last year by Thai Paradorn Srichaphan and overwhelmed at the recent Stella Artois Championships by Andy Roddick, will still start as many people's favourite, however.
"He's fitter and stronger and probably just as fast as he was in his teenage years," Agassi's coach Darren Cahill told Reuters this week.
"He has a serious love of the game and you can't teach that," added the Australian of the 33-year-old Agassi, who won the title in 1992. "He enjoys going out and testing himself every day and seeing if he can become a better player every day."
The same sentiments could be spoken of Hewitt -- 11 years Agassi's junior. The tenacious Australian has many similarities to Agassi, not least his service returning, while, as Sampras once said "he has the best wheels in the game."
Hewitt, who beat David Nalbandian to claim his second grand slam title last year, recently split from coach Jason Stoltenberg and looked badly out of sorts at Queen's Club. But Cahill expects his compatriot to come out firing from day one at Wimbledon.
"He's going to be a tough guy to beat, no question about that," said Cahill. "I would love to see a final between Andre and Lleyton, I think everyone would love to see that."
First though they will have to battle through a draw full of potential winners. Hewitt is seeded to meet Roddick in the quarter-finals, with many tipping the big-serving American to have a real blast this year.
Agassi's section of the draw includes the unpredictable former U.S. Open winner Marat Safin, while the unseeded Mark Philippoussis is the probably the most dangerous "sleeper" in the draw, according to Cahill.
"There are a lot of players in the draw who are not seeded but who are very dangerous," said Cahill. "Philippoussis has a lot of grass-court experience and could cause a big upset.
"And there are a heap of others like (Nicolas) Escude."
South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, seeded 28, could also be thrown into the melting pot, as could Srichaphan, American Taylor Dent, any number of Spaniards and South Americans and, of course, British duo Henman and the fit-again Greg Rusedski.
While this year's men's championship could be the most unpredictable for years, one thing will never change, the phenomenon called Henmania.
The 28-year-old Henman's attempts to become the first Briton to win the men's title since Fred Perry in the 1930s have gripped the nation every summer since he burst on to the scene by reaching the quarter-finals in 1996.
Four times he has reached the semi-finals, only to stumble, but the Briton knows exactly how to handle the pressure.
"The crowd can give me a massive lift, if anything it puts pressure on my opponents," he said.
"It's pretty simple really, you've just got to win seven matches against the best players in the world. I've managed five but never six or seven. I'll just try again this year."