- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

WIMBLEDON, England Where is Amelie Mauresmo when you need her?
In a Wimbledon final that was truly sad for tennis, Australian Lleyton Hewitt disgraced unheralded David Nalbandian 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 yesterday on Centre Court, collecting his second Grand Slam title and first crown at the All England Club.
"Wow, it's unbelievable," the 21-year-old Hewitt said after the most lopsided Wimbledon final in men's singles since John McEnroe crushed Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 in 1984. "I've been dreaming of this day all my life."
Chances are the tennis was a good deal more compelling in the Aussie's imagination than yesterday's drab duel. You can't blame Hewitt, but both his opponent's play and the overall style of the match qualified as aesthetically toxic.
"It wasn't the best tennis," said Hewitt, the first baseliner to win at Wimbledon since Andre Agassi in 1992. "It was certainly different. I don't know how many years you have to go back to find two baseline players in a Wimbledon final."
Perhaps a forgettable final was to be expected with the world's top player facing a player of Nalbandian's suspect status.
The 20-year-old Argentine, who slipped through the bottom half of the bracket thanks to a rash of upsets, came to Wimbledon never having advanced past the third round in a Grand Slam event. He had never before entered a senior-level event on grass. And he wasn't ranked in the world's top 30. Yesterday, he played like it from the start, double-faulting on the match's opening point and unraveling in tragicomical fashion.
"I think I not play very good," said Nalbandian, who admitted in his broken English that he was a bit overwhelmed by the experience. "I don't feel really good in the court today. Was a little difficult for me. From one to 10, I play like maybe five."
How about three as in the number of winners Nalbandian hit in the first set while he was busy doling out 16 unforced errors. Not one to turn down such charity, Hewitt immediately adopted a conservative philosophy. His game plan was simple if uninspiring to watch: keep the ball in play, steer clear of the lines and wait for the nervous first-timer to make the miscues.
The stratagem worked beautifully: Nalbandian obliged with 41 errors against just 12 winners, which surely would be a Slam record for futility if such statistics were kept. But if Hewitt's tactics lifted him to victory, they certainly didn't do much for the spirits of the 14,000 patrons at Centre Court. Sir Paul McCartney was on hand in the Royal Box, probably because he knew watching such a match would be the closest thing to barbiturates allowed under law.
All told, the first two baseliners to meet in a Wimbledon final since Bjorn Borg beat Jimmy Connors in 1978 combined to attempt zero serve-and-volley approaches in 150 points. Who needs the French Open? Who needs Sominex?
The two rain delays that interrupted the match's second set provided more entertainment. In fact, the day's only real dose of suspense came when a male streaker arrived on Centre Court just as the players were returning from the first suspension with Hewitt up a set and a game. The naked patron gamboled about to the shock of some and the hysterics of others, treated the crowd to his version of the moonwalk and then vaulted the net before a female steward corralled him with a towel.
"Was terrible, nobody take him," said Nalbandian, disturbed by the fact that it took his hosts so long to put a stop to the show. "He was five minutes out there."
Nalbandian made a temporary recovery after the disturbance, rallying to square the second set at three games apiece. But then the rain descended again, drowning the Argentine's momentum in the 45-minute hiatus that followed. When the pair returned to the court, Hewitt won three quick games for the set, capitalizing on a forehand error from Nalbandian at 3-4 to earn a break and closing out the second act with an ace.
The final set was a case study in composure vs. frustration. Hewitt slammed groundstrokes at his overmatched opponent, while Nalbandian argued line calls, tossed his racquet about and stared defiantly at the heavens. When the match ended rather fittingly on a Nalbandian error with Hewitt serving at 40-15, the Aussie took a page out of his idol's past, scrambling up to the players' box a la Pat Cash to hug his coach, girlfriend Kim Clijsters and parents.
"I can remember being at my grandparents' house when I was 6, watching Pat Cash win at Wimbledon," said Hewitt, the first Aussie to win at the All England Club since Cash in 1987. "It was a huge thing to see an Australian win such a big tournament.
"I had no idea what I was going to do if I won. I sort of went back to my chair. Then I thought, 'Stuff it, I'll go and do it. It's been 15 years since an Aussie won.'"
Given Hewitt's dominating performance over the fortnight at Wimbledon (he lost just two sets), the Aussies aren't likely to have to wait 15 more.
"When I got a hold of that trophy, I really wanted to have a look at all the names on there. It's nice to have my name on there," Hewitt said. "It's a great piece of gold."


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