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Scud back from the brink to outgun Popp

Australian big-hitter Mark Philippoussis on Thursday completed a stirring comeback to win through to the Wimbledon men's semi-finals.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2003 22:26 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

Australian big-hitter Mark Philippoussis on Thursday completed a stirring comeback to win through to the Wimbledon men's semi-finals, overturning a two-set deficit against little-known German Alexander Popp in an epic 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 8-6 triumph spanning two days.

The beefy Australian, who has returned to form after missing the bulk of the 2001 and 2002 seasons with knee ligament injuries, sealed the victory in a final set carried over from Wednesday, when play had been interrupted repeatedly by rain.

He now faces France's Sebastien Grosjean, conqueror of British hope Tim Henman.

A pounding battle of the giants saw 1.93m (6'4") Philippoussis claw back from a 2-0 sets deficit against his 2.01m (6'7") opponent.

When play resumed at 2-2 in the final set on Thursday, Philippoussis was still not out of trouble, and had to battle his way through a string of break points on his own serve at 5-5 and then 6-6.

But after those scares, the man known as Scud eventually broke Popp's serve again with some ferocious passing shots to seal an impassioned set marked by angry line call queries from both players.

"This is Wimbledon and you've got to give it your all," a breathless Philippoussis said straight after the game.

The Aussie had looked in real trouble on Wednesday, with Popp appearing to have mastered his fearsome serve.

But the 26-year-old fought back valiantly in a stuttering game interrupted for almost four hours by rain even on the first day, unleashing stinging serves and leaping around the court with an agility that belies his 90kg (200lb) frame.

Philippoussis saw off world number one Andre Agassi in the fourth round and has been tipped throughout the tournament as a good bet to secure what would be his first Grand Slam in an up-and-down career wracked by injury.

A Popp victory would have counted as an upset, although neither player is seeded.

The German, also 26, has never risen above 74th in the world and had not previously got past the quarter-final of any Grand Slam, having reached that stage at Wimbledon in 2000.

In contrast Philippoussis, a US Open finalist in 1998, is renowned as a highly talented grass court player.

He has slipped down the rankings in recent years after a spate of knee injuries, which saw him most famously hobble out of the 1999 Wimbledon men's quarter-finals when one set to love up against then all-conquering Pete Sampras.

Popp has faced terrible injury woes himself.

In 2001 he was struck down by glandular fever, a viral infection which leaves victims chronically tired, leaving him barely able even to practise.

After recovering from the illness, Popp suffered a further setback when he incurred a wrist injury at the US Open last summer which kept him out until just two months before Wimbledon.

Had Popp won it would have provided some cheer for British fans mourning Henman's exit, given that the towering German has an English mother.

First Published: Jul 03, 2003 22:26 IST