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With Sampras out, excitement in

Ivanisevic, Rafter and Henman lost to perennial Wimbledon champ, relish chance to win.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 6, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- Seven-time champion Pete Sampras is gone from Wimbledon. That suits the four men still playing just fine.

In the past decade, all four -- Andre Agassi, Goran Ivanisevic, Patrick Rafter and Tim Henman -- have had their dream of winning Wimbledon shattered by the grass-savvy American.

This time, any of the four could win it.

Agassi and Rafter meet in the semifinals today for the third straight time. In the other match, Henman can become the first Briton since 1938 to reach the final -- the last British winner was Fred Perry in 1936 -- if he survives against Ivanisevic, a three-time runner-up.

Agassi vs. Rafter is one of the game's classic matchups: the American baseliner against the deft Australian's serve-and-volley game. Rafter, 28, beat Agassi a year ago in a five-set thriller and lost to Sampras in the final. Agassi, 31, defeated Rafter two years ago and met the same fate. Overall, Agassi holds a 9-4 edge in all their meetings.

Ivanisevic, 29, has been reborn this year at Wimbledon with a tournament-high 150 aces in five matches, and he has been broken only three times. He lost in the '92 final to Agassi and to Sampras in '94 and '98. Henman, 26, was stopped in the '98 and '99 semifinals by -- you guessed it -- Sampras. The Oxford-born Englishman is 4-0 against Ivanisevic, one win of which was on grass.

All four are accomplished on grass, with 140 victories at Wimbledon among them but one title to show for it.

Ivanisevic is the tournament surprise.

The 6-foot-4 Croatian has the quickest quips and the most feared serve. He has watched his ranking slip out of the top 100, plagued by a left shoulder injury that eventually will need surgery and a slow, steady slump since losing to Sampras three years ago at the All England Club.

Ivanisevic figures the pressure is on his opponent.

"I was watching on TV. They were asking people if they should have a Henman holiday on Sunday if he wins," Ivanisevic said. "So it is going to be huge expectation on his back."

Henman does carry the weight of a nation and could get knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II if he wins Sunday's final

"My immediate feeling, in all honesty, is that it's nice that I'm not playing Sampras because I lost to him on those two occasions and I certainly played some great tennis," Henman said.

Agassi has won seven Grand Slams, including this year's Australian Open, and said if he could win only one more, it would be Wimbledon. Rafter will take a few months off when the season ends and may decide to retire.

"I'm just really looking forward to (the semifinal)," Agassi said. "I've said many times that Pat, he's a great player, a great competitor. I've had some great matches with him."

If Agassi wins the title, it would be the longest stretch between Wimbledon championships since Bill Tilden won in 1920, '21 and '30.

Of the four semifinalists, Rafter is the most athletic and has the best all-court game. Like Ivanisevic, he has had shoulder problems. Twenty months ago he had arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery. He figures the match is a tossup.

"Mate, I definitely put it down as one of four," he said. "There's nothing more exciting than playing a guy like Andre at Wimbledon.."

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