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The talent assembled at Wimbledon is stunning. There's Jim Courier, ranked No. 1, fresh off two Grand Slam victories. There's Pete Sampras, who keeps getting better. There's Stefan Edberg, who's playing out of his mind. I'm the 12th seed, and the way I've been playing I should be seeded lower.
In the quarters I go up against Boris Becker, who's reached six of the last seven Wimbledon finals. This is his de facto home court. But I've been seeing his serve well lately. I win in five sets, played over two days.
In the semis I face John McEnroe, a three-time Wimbledon champion. He's 33, nearing the end of his career, and unseeded. The fans want him to win, of course. Part of me wants him to win also. But I beat him in three sets. I'm in the final.
I'm expecting to face Pete, but he loses his semi to Goran Ivanisevic, a big, strong serving machine from Croatia. I've played him twice before, and both times he's shellacked me in straight sets. I have no chance against him. It's a middleweight versus a heavyweight. The only suspense is whether it will be a knockout or a TKO.
As powerful as Ivanisevic's serve is under normal circumstances, in the final it's a work of art. He's acing me left and right, monster serves that the speed gun clocks as fast as 138 mph. But it's not just the speed, it's the trajectory. They land at a 75-degree angle. Each time he serves a ball past me, I say under my breath that he can't do that every time. The match will be decided on second serves.
He wins the first set 7--6. I don't break him once. I concentrate on breathing in, breathing out, remaining patient. When the thought crosses my mind that I'm on the verge of losing my fourth Grand Slam final without a victory, I casually set it aside.
In the second set Ivanisevic gives me a few freebies, makes a few mistakes, and I break him. I take the second set. Then the third. Which makes me feel almost worse, because once again I'm a set away from a Slam.
Ivanisevic rises up in the fourth set and destroys me. I've made the Croat mad. He loses only a handful of points. As the fifth set begins I run in place to get the blood flowing and tell myself: You want this. The problem in the last three Slams was that you didn't want them enough, and you didn't bring it, so this time you need to let Ivanisevic and everyone else in this joint know you want it.
Now Ivanisevic is serving at 4--5. He double faults. Twice. He's down love-30. He's cracking under the strain. He misses another first serve. I know precisely what's happening inside Ivanisevic's body. His throat is closing. His legs are quivering. But then he quiets his body and hits a second serve to the back of the box, a beam of yellow light that barely nicks the line. A puff of chalk shoots up. Then he hits another unreturnable serve. Suddenly it's 30-all.