Centre Court was the stage for compelling theater today Boris Becker made an emotional farewell to Wimbledon and Tim Henman pulled out a dramatic five-set win over Jim Courier.
Becker's illustrious Wimbledon career came to an end with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 loss to Australia's Patrick Rafter.
Becker, who won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 1985, added two more titles in 1986 and 1989, and was runner-up four times.
After leaving the court today to a rousing standing ovation, Becker confirmed his Wimbledon career was definitely over.
"The last time I said 99 percent," he said. "This time, I say 100 percent."
After cursory handshakes with Rafter and the chair umpire, Becker packed his bag and bowed to the Royal Box for the last time. He then stopped, put down his bag, and raised his arms and clapped to acknowledge a standing ovation.
Becker stopped to sign a few autographs, shook hands with referee Alan Mills at the back of the court and then disappeared into the locker room.
"It was a nice way to say goodbye," he said.
| After three titles and four runner-up finishes, Boris Becker's Wimbledon career ends with a loss Wednesday. (AP)|
Describing his 15-year relationship with Wimbledon, Becker said: "It was a great love affair like nowhere else in the world. It made me who am I today."
Barely had the crowd had time to salute Becker, than local favorite Henman took the court to face Courier in the resumption of a fourth-round match suspended because of rain Monday.
As play finally resumed after two days of rain, Pete Sampra, seeking his sixth Wimbledon title in seven years, powered into the quarters by beating Canada's Daniel Nestor 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Sampras is within three wins of his 12th Grand Slam championship.
In a match between two of the biggest teen-age stars in tennis, Venus Williams rallied to beat crowd favorite Anna Kournikova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, to reach the quarters for the second straight year.
In another key women's match, 18-year-old qualifier Alexandra Stevenson overcame fellow American Lisa Raymond, 2-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1.
Avenging a five-set defeat to Courier in the Davis Cup in April, Henman saved three match points at 5-6 in the final set and prevailed, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7 (7-5), 9-7.
The match lasted a total of 4½ hours, ranking among the longest in Wimbledon history. It was the third straight five-setter for Courier, who was hospitalized for dehydration last Friday after a third-round win over Sjeng Schalken.
"(I spent) too much time spent on court to get to the fourth round," Courier said. "I must work on shortening the matches ... I wish I were being paid by the hour out there."
Henman was up 4-3 in the fourth set when the match resumed, but Courier fought back to win a tiebreak and force a decisive and thrilling fifth set.
Henman was up a break at 4-2, but the American broke back for 4-4. After Courier saved two break points and held for 6-5, he gained three match points against Henman's serve in the next game.
But Henman saved the first with a service winner. On the second, he hit a gutsy second serve followed by a backhand volley that landed near the baseline and forced Courier into an error. On the third, Henman slammed a 130 mph ace down the middle.
Henman held for 6-6 and made the decisive breakthrough in the 15th game, breaking Courier with a stretch, forehand volley from mid-court. On the previous point, Henman hit a volley that landed near the baseline. Courier argued that the ball was long, getting a warning for verbal abuse.
On the changeover, Courier continued to complain, tossing a cup over his shoulder in disgust. Henman, unruffled, served out the match at love in the next game.
Williams, who dropped the first four games, gradually worked her way back into the match and took command when she broke for a 3-1 lead in the second set.
| 'She was just too mentally strong for me,' Anna Kournikova said of her loss to Venus Williams. (AP)|
From then on, Williams kept Kournikova on the run with punishing ground strokes and attacked on short balls to charge the net for putaway volleys and smahes.
Williams will next face seven-time champion Steffi Graf, who needed just eight minutes to complete her rain-delayed match against 16-year-old Belgian qualifier Kim Clijsters. Graf won the final two games to win 6-2, 6-2.
Stevenson, playing as a pro for the first time, will now face another qualifier, 16-year-old Jelena Dokic of Australia. That means a qualifier will reach the semifinals for the first time in Wimbledon history.
In a duel between two of the biggest servers in the game, No. 7 Mark Philippoussis slammed 25 aces to beat Britain's Greg Rusedski, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-1. Rusedski had 12 double faults and only nine aces.
Three-time runner-up Goran Ivanisevic, who lost to Sampras in the 1994 and 1998 finals, was ousted by Todd Martin, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-4.
Cedric Pioline, a finalist in 1997, reached the quarters by overcoming Karol Kucera in five sets, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-3.
In the completion of another rain-interrupted match, Croatia's 17-year-old Mirjana Lucic beat Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn, 7-5, 6-3, to advance to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Lucic will now play eighth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat of France, last year's Wimbledon runner-up, who downed No. 15 Dominique Van Roost of Belgium 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Becker surprised even himself by getting to the fourth round, but he was no match on this day for Rafter, the two-time U.S. Open champion who overwhelmed him with a classic display of serve-and-volley tennis.
Becker was let down by his biggest weapon, the serve. He had 13 double faults and struggled repeatedly with his first serve.
Rafter broke Becker eight times, including in the final game of the match. On the second match point, Becker sailed a low backhand volley wide.
"I wish I would have given a better match," Becker said. "I left my serve at home or I don't know where. Every time I served, it was a struggle. He outplayed me today, so it's time for me to go."
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