WIMBLEDON, England – First Pete Sampras, then Andre Agassi.
The two biggest American names in men’s tennis lost in the second round at Wimbledon in stunning upsets Wednesday.
On an amazing day at the All England Club, second-seeded Marat Safin also was eliminated.
On a court nicknamed the “graveyard of champions,” Sampras rallied from two sets down but came up short 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4 against George Bastl, a Swiss player ranked 145th in the world.
Bastl, who played collegiate tennis at South Florida and Southern California, had lost in the first round of all six previous grass-court tournaments he played.
Sampras experienced one of the worst defeats of his career against Bastl, who had won just one previous grass-court match. Bastl only made it into the draw Sunday as a “lucky loser” from qualifying after Spain’s Felix Mantilla pulled out with a knee injury.
“It’s a nice story isn’t it?” he said. “I gave myself chances because I was practicing on grass for the last three weeks. I had won my last three matches, and I knew my game was improving match by match. I felt I would have some sort of a chance.”
Bastl competed at USF from 1995-96. In the 1996 season, Bastl made first-team all-conference and was named Conference USA’s Player of the Year.
Bastl also has two of the best singles’ rankings in USF history. He finished 1996 ranked 30th in the nation and was the 22nd-ranked player in the nation at the end of 1995. Those are third and second highest finishes ever in the national polls for a USF player. Bastl teamed with Souheil Zekri to comprise the No. 50 doubles tandem at the end of the 1996 season.
“It was a real big win,” USF coach Don Barr said. “It’s something a lot of people never even dream they could do.”
Ironically, Barr said that Sampras lost to USF alum Mark Kiel on grass a few years ago at the Queen’s Club tourney.
Bastl always had a ton of potential in Barr’s eyes. As a freshman, Bastl went 23-2, losing just one match in the regular season.
“I knew he was a very good player,” Barr said. “He had excellent work habits. He was a 4.0 student. In fact, he won USF’s student-athlete of the year, which is an amazing accomplishment for a tennis player.”
For much of his match, Sampras appeared out of sorts. He made glaring unforced errors, struggled with his serve, failed to run full-out for some shots and was nowhere near the player who has won a record 13 Grand Slam singles titles.
“I wasn’t at my best,” he said. “But I felt like I was going to win the match, even though I was down two sets to love. It’s disappointing. I fought hard to get back into the match. It will be a tough flight home, knowing this is going on and I’m not here.”It was the seven-time champion’s earliest exit from the grass-court championships in 11 years.
Sampras lost in the second round at Wimbledon in 1991. Since then, he has won a record seven singles championships, including four straight from 1997-2000. He lost in the fourth round last year to Roger Federer.
But Sampras hasn’t won a tournament since Wimbledon in 2000 and came into the tournament with his lowest seeding (six) in 11 years. Wednesday’s defeat will inevitably raise questions about the future of the man considered the greatest grass-court player in history.
But Sampras said he’ll definitely be back.
“You know, I’m not going to end my time here with that loss,” he said. “I want to end it on a high note and so I plan on being back … As long as I feel like I can continue to win majors and contend, I’ll just continue to play.”
Sampras’ body language after his defeat was particularly downcast.
After he hit a forehand way long on match point, he trudged head down and shoulders slumped to the net.
Sampras stayed behind, slumped on his chair with head bowed, for about two minutes after Bastl left the court. The former champion then walked off very slowly, briefly raising his right hand as the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
During a few changeovers in the match, Sampras unfolded a piece of white paper and read notes. He said it was something that his wife, Bridgette Wilson, had written for him.
Sampras, who is used to playing on Centre Court or Court 1, looked out of place on Court 2 – a small, intimate court that seats about 3,000.
He’s the latest champion to lose on that court, joining a list that includes John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase, Richard Krajicek, Andre Agassi and Pat Cash.
“When I heard about it, I wasn’t happy about it,” Sampras said. “I’d rather be on a show court. Having won this thing a few times, I thought they might have put me on one.”
Later, on Centre Court, the third-seeded Agassi – champion in 1992 – went down in straight sets, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-2, to 67th-ranked Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand.
In the past two days, the tournament lost five of the men’s top eight seeded players. No. 7 Roger Federer and No. 8 Thomas Johansson lost Tuesday.
With Agassi and Sampras out, Richard Krajicek is the only remaining former champion left in the draw.
The Dutchman, winner in 1996 and playing his first major tournament in two years after elbow surgery, served 32 aces and outlasted American James Blake 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 11-9. The match lasted three hours, seven minutes – with the final set alone taking one hour, eight minutes.
Krajicek next faces Srichapan.
Agassi’s one-sided defeat – which took only one hour, 47 minutes – ranked as an even bigger surprise than Sampras’ ouster. While Sampras’ game has been in decline, Agassi has been playing well, and he was considered a stronger contender for the title.
“I’m a little stunned. I’m certainly disappointed,” he said. “I never found my rhythm out there today. I played a very average match against a guy who’s taking it to me and deserved to win. It was a bit of shocker for me today.”
Srichaphan came into the match with a career Grand Slam record of 5-10 and had won only two matches at Wimbledon.
But, on Wednesday, he played the match of his life on the sport’s most famous court against the only player to win all four Grand Slam singles titles since Rod Laver in 1968.
“My goal was to win the opening round,” Srichaphan said. “Then, when I saw I would play Andre in the next round, I thought, ‘That’s it for me.’ I had nothing to lose, just go on court and enjoy. I just played my best today. It just happened.”
Agassi usually dominates matches with his punishing baseline game, but he was on the defensive. Srichaphan dictated the points, moving Agassi from side to side with ground strokes to all corners of the court.
Agassi had an unusually high number of unforced errors (35), 10 more than Srichaphan. The Thai player also served 15 aces and broke Agassi six times.
After Agassi hit a backhand wide on match point, Srichaphan threw up his arms, then covered his face with his hands. He pressed his hands together in a prayer gesture and bowed to all four corners of the stadium – a ritual usually carried out by Agassi after his wins.
Srichaphan’s father and coach, Chanachai, jumped to his feet and pulled out a camera to take photos of his son’s celebration.In another major surprise, Safin was ousted 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (1) by Belgium’s Olivier Rochus.
Safin leads the ATP Champions Race, which counts points in tournaments this year, but couldn’t handle the quickness and clever play of the 63rd-ranked Rochus.
The result wasn’t totally unexpected: Rochus had beaten Safin once before and extended him to five sets on clay at the French Open last month.
Safin finished with 45 unforced errors, compared with only 10 for Rochus. Safin had 21 aces, but also served eight double faults.