- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England It might have been Independence Day in the States, but it looked more like veterans day at Wimbledon.

The older player prevailed in each of the four men's quarterfinals at the All England Club yesterday as Andre Agassi, Pat Rafter, Goran Ivanisevic and Tim Henman advanced in relatively comfortable fashion.

"I think experience is always an advantage, assuming you have your health and you still have your shots," said the 31-year-old Agassi, assessing the day's veteran successes after eliminating France's Nicolas Escude 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. "It's very difficult to go out there for the first time and step up to the occasion and keep everything together.

"Today it wasn't easy conditions. It was breezy out there. It forces you to play a bit more conservatively with more margin for error. That's where experience does help a lot."

Agassi moves on to face Rafter in the Wimbledon semis for the third consecutive year. The 28-year-old Aussie, who tentatively plans to retire at the end of the season, used his unique game of kick serves and dive volleys to roll over Sweden's Thomas Enqvist in straight sets and set up tomorrow's marquee men's semifinal.

"There's nothing more exciting than playing a guy like Andre at Wimbledon," said Rafter, who edged Agassi in a classic five-setter last year after losing to him in straight sets in 1999. "I guess it's starting to become a little bit of a tradition here at Wimbledon. I know the English love their tradition."

But the Brits have an even stronger affinity for the other semifinalists.

Native son Henman is teasing the locals once again, advancing to his third semifinal in the last four years with a gutsy 7-5, 7-6 (6), 2-6, 7-6 (6) victory over Sampras slayer Roger Federer. Despite his losses in previous semis (1998, 1999), the 25-year-old Brit feels more at ease this year without Sampras barring his path to the finals.

"You know, relief was my immediate reaction when Pete was knocked out, because he took me out in both of my trips to the semis," said Henman, attempting to become the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. "If you were to have a choice of who you would least like to play on grass, I think it would be Sampras… . Having said that, Goran is playing as well as most people have seen."

In fact, Ivanisevic thus far has provided the most compelling story of the men's draw.

The three-time Wimbledon runner-up and former force in the men's game, who struggled with a shoulder injury and his head over the last several seasons, came to Wimbledon as the world's No. 125 player after making just one quarterfinal in 10 starts this season. The 29-year-old Croat had to beg his way into the draw, receiving a wild card from the All England Club. But he's made the most of it, rediscovering his hammer serve and charming both fans and media with his charisma on and off the court.

Yesterday Ivanisevic used 31 aces to dispatch fourth-seeded Marat Safin 7-6 (2), 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3) and become the first wild card to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.

"Never happier in my life," said Ivanisevic in broken English. "All these other three times I was in the final, I was kind of like expected to go in the final, semifinal. You know, '92, '94, '98, people, they were tipping on me. This year there is no pressure, but I play the best tennis ever I played in Wimbledon. The way I'm serving, and from the back today, I just played unbelievable tennis."

Twice during his match with Safin, Ivanisevic played volleys between his legs once en route to a winning point. Safin simply shook his head when asked about the acrobatic shots, eventually describing Ivanisevic as "unbeatable."

"I'm the guy who can play a lot of shots, sometimes stupid shots," said Ivanisevic, oft-criticized in his prime for his boiling temper and suspect focus. "Nobody plays between the legs on important points. I do that, and I don't know why. I just like to do it, you know. That's me."

But by and large during the fortnight, Ivanisevic has been as brilliant as he has been bold. And with the exception of one slip yesterday after he dropped the third set, he has kept his temper in check.

"I'm very quiet very focused and not losing my mind," said Ivanisevic, who has described how multiple personalities within have helped him maintain control thus far. "Nothing is bothering me. I got one warning today because of little stupid I said this F-word but is OK."

Ivanisevic's biggest problem heading into tomorrow's semifinals might be his dwindling wardrobe. He brought only four Sergio Tacchini shirts to Wimbledon, and he's already tossed two into the stands during his extensive victory celebrations.

"I didn't know what to do at first," said Ivanisevic of his decision to chuck a second shirt into the crowd and then climb up the umpire's chair yesterday. "But I know that Tacchini send some more shirts for me, so I could afford to throw… . I didn't know what to do next. I step on the chairs. I couldn't throw the racket, because I only have three rackets. I have to keep that… . But it's so beautiful. It's a dream for me."

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