Point of No Returns

Times Staff Writer

This was the match Mark Philippoussis seemed destined to win here four years ago.

But the championship platform that was to have been a fulfillment of his power and promise was jerked out from under him, three rounds short of a Grand Slam singles title.

Philippoussis had won the first set of a quarterfinal against Mr. Wimbledon himself, Pete Sampras, and anticipation of a major upset hung in the air at the All England Club.


In a flash, though, his body gave way in the second set. Philippoussis went down and then out, stopping because of torn cartilage in his left knee. He went off to have surgery, and Sampras went off and won another Wimbledon title, beating Andre Agassi in the 1999 final.

Promise fulfillment, it appears, was delayed until Monday. The oft-injured Philippoussis didn’t get another shot at Sampras, who is in virtual retirement, but he managed to get one against the other half of the sport’s greatest contemporary rivalry, Agassi.

Philippoussis tied a Wimbledon record by serving 46 aces and came from behind to beat the second-seeded Agassi, 6-3, 2-6, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4, in the fourth round in 3 hours 12 minutes. (The other man to serve 46 aces at Wimbledon, Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia, lost that second-round contest against Magnus Norman in 1997.)

“Everyone loves you when you’re winning,” said the 26-year-old Philippoussis, an Australian who moved from Florida to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif., last summer. “You lose a match, no one jumps on the bandwagon.”

He had not defeated Agassi in more than six years, had lost their last six meetings and called Monday’s victory one of the most important of his career.

Agassi’s loss left one American, Andy Roddick, in the final eight on the men’s side.

“Little weird, huh?” Roddick said.

The fifth-seeded Roddick dropped a set for the first time in four matches but regained his equilibrium and defeated Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. They hugged at the net and even bowed to the Royal Box on the way off Centre Court, even though the gesture is no longer required.

Afterward, Roddick was asked about being “the man” and the pressure it brings.

“See, I’ve never been the man in the U.S.,” Roddick said. “There’s always been a couple guys named Pete and Andre. So I wouldn’t know.”

In the quarterfinals, Roddick will play 31-year-old Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden, who self-mockingly called himself the “next young star” and “old Swedish Viking.”

Eleven years separate Roddick and Bjorkman, and the 20-year-old is on a nine-match winning streak.

This is only the second tournament for Roddick with his new coach, Brad Gilbert. He won the first one, the Queen’s Club grass-court tuneup, on June 15.

“He’s a great kid,” Gilbert said. “You know what? The guy has got unbelievable talent. You expect things immediately. Why not? You’ve got to be extremely positive and you take things day to day. He’s got an amazing base, an amazing game. And there’s no reason why he can’t keep doing it.”

Gilbert, Agassi’s coach until last year, was able to put his loss in perspective. Whenever the 33-year-old Agassi loses these days, it’s tempting to write his career obituary, a risky proposition, considering many his ups and downs. He said he plans to return in 2004.

“I’m stunned Andre lost,” said Gilbert. “The guy hit 46 aces and Andre still almost won. I thought Mark would have to hit 40 aces to still even have a chance to win. And he hit 46. If he keeps doing that, he’s going to be tough to beat.”

Said Agassi of Philippoussis’ formidable serving power and consistency: “He stopped impressing me a long time ago -- 131 [mph]. It takes more than that now.”

The draw could have opened up nicely for Agassi. Instead, Philippoussis will play unheralded Alexander Popp of Germany in the lower part of the quarterfinals. Roger Federer and Roddick are in the upper half.

Popp had not played at Wimbledon since reaching the quarterfinals in 2000.

“You know, I couldn’t even pick him out of a one-man lineup,” Gilbert said.

Later on, he solved the mystery.

“I know what he looks like,” Gilbert said. “I just saw him in the training room.”

Philippoussis reached the quarterfinal against Popp by serving big throughout the match, keeping Agassi guessing and off balance. They produced scintillating tennis and several games were almost matches within a match. The third game of the third set featured seven deuces and Agassi fought off five break points. The key of the fourth set was the seventh game, in which Philippoussis fell behind, 0-40, and pulled it out, getting in five consecutive first serves. In the fifth, Agassi had four more break points but couldn’t convert.

“Today, I felt like I made him earn it,” Agassi said. “I made him play the big shot at the crucial time, and he came up with it.”

Agassi’s loss opened Tim Henman’s eyes. Henman admitted seeing the result during his fourth-round match.

“Yeah, absolutely,” said No. 10 Henman, who kept British hopes flickering late in the day with his 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 6 David Nalbandian of Argentina, a finalist here last year. Nalbandian said he injured a stomach muscle two days ago and had difficulty serving.

Next, Henman will play No. 13 Sebastien Grosjean of France or No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. Their match was stopped because of darkness and will be completed today. In other fourth-round matches, No. 4 Federer of Switzerland needed treatment from the trainer for his ailing back but still defeated Feliciano Lopez of Spain, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.


Wimbledon Glance

A look at what happened Monday, the seventh day at Wimbledon:

* Winners -- Men: No. 4 Roger Federer, No. 5 Andy Roddick, No. 8 Sjeng Schalken, No. 10 Tim Henman, Alexander Popp, Mark Philippoussis, Jonas Bjorkman. Women: No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 2 Kim Clijsters, No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 4 Venus Williams, No. 5 Lindsay Davenport, No. 8 Jennifer Capriati, No. 27 Silvia Farina Elia, No. 33 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

* Losers -- Men: No. 2 Andre Agassi, No. 6 David Nalbandian, No. 9 Rainer Schuettler, No. 12 Paradorn Srichaphan, Max Mirnyi, Feliciano Lopez, Olivier Rochus. Women: No. 10 Anastasia Myskina, No. 13 Ai Sugiyama, No. 15 Elena Dementieva, No. 16 Vera Zvonareva, Mary Pierce, Maria Sharapova, Paola Suarez, Shinobu Asagoe.

* Stat of the Day -- In beating Andre Agassi, Mark Philippoussis equaled the Wimbledon record of 46 aces set by Goran Ivanisevic in 1997.

* Quote of the Day -- “Why wouldn’t I be back? I’m still a tennis player. This is the place to be.” -- Andre Agassi, 33, after his fourth-round loss to Mark Philippoussis.