The Big Breakthrough
Vladimir Voltchkov, ranked No. 237, fought his way into the second week of Wimbledon
Vladimir Voltchkov may have won the Wimbledon juniors in 1996, but there were abundant reminders at this year's tournament that he had yet to infiltrate the big time. Before his fourth-round match on Monday he couldn't find a practice partner, so he warmed up by going for a run. His minuscule bio in the ATP Tour media guide incorrectly lists his birthday as July 4 (it's April 7). What's more, lacking an apparel contract, Voltchkov took the court in London wearing a Nike top with Adidas shorts. "Actually, I borrowed the shorts from Marat Safin," he says. "He lost last week, so I took some of his clothes and his grass-court shoes."
Voltchkov's stature is due to improve after this week. A husky 22-year-old from Minsk, Belarus, he came to Wimbledon ranked No. 237, swept through his three matches in the qualifying draw and reached the quarterfinals by beating veteran Wayne Ferreira in straight sets. Though only 5'11", Voltchkov hits a booming serve and heavy groundstrokes, and though he won just two ATP Tour matches all last year, he is un-fazed by the pressure of a Grand Slam event He skunked Ferreira 7-0 in the third-set tiebreaker, punctuating the win with an ace. "This is some of the best tennis I've played, especially on the big points," he says. "I've been waiting for a result like this for a while."
The son of two electricians, Voltchkov turned pro in 1995. Shaky confidence and a bum right shoulder kept his ranking out of the top 100, relegating him to qualifying draws and the challenger circuit. His future looks brighter after his Wimbledon performance, which guaranteed him a payday of roughly $100,000 and a jump into double digits in the rankings. "In some ways, there will be less pressure now," he says. "The challengers are like the survival zone."
A few more trips to the quarterfinals (or perhaps farther) and Voltchkov may even be able to stop mooching attire from his friends.
—L. Jon Wertheim
U.S. Davis Cup Team
Will Pete Play? Who Knows?
John McEnroe's second act has hit another snag. When McEnroe, who retired from the ATP Tour in 1992, got the job of U.S. Davis Cup captain last September, no one—least of all he—envisioned it as a very difficult task. Both the world's hottest player, Andre Agassi, and the world's best, Pete Sampras, had committed to playing for him, which meant that McEnroe had polished off about 90% of his duties before the 2000 campaign had even begun. "I should've known better," McEnroe said last Friday. "Welcome to reality"
It bites. Again. Facing a difficult tie, on clay against a strong Spanish team in Santander from July 21 to 23, McEnroe must contend once more with Sampras's delicate body and ego. It will be a high-profile test of McEnroe's leadership—and a task at which the captain is not skilled. After Sampras tore 40% of his hip flexor at the Australian Open and pulled out of the first-round tie between the U.S. and Zimbabwe in February, McEnroe enraged him by suggesting that Sampras, who had redrawn his 2000 schedule to fit in Davis Cup, had never had any real interest in traveling to Africa Sampras considered quitting the team but returned for the U.S.'s second-round win over the Czech Republic in Los Angeles in April and an uneasy coexistence with his captain.
Sampras's availability—and McEnroe's ability to secure it without alienating him—is again in question. After suffering tendinitis in his left shin before his second-round win over Karol Kucera at Wimbledon, Sampras spent the remainder of the tournament's first week contending with the injury, which he called "a little bit painful." He said on Saturday, "I haven't thought much about Davis Cup." Considering his increasingly fragile body and the fact that clay is his worst surface, nobody would be surprised if Sampras opts out of the tie against Spain.
"It's already happened once," McEnroe says. "Let's just say, from the first experience I learned something. I'm making sure a couple of people are available. We could field a team at least."