WIMBLEDON, England — Who knew what was about to happen on a picture-perfect English day?
Sixth-seeded Pete Sampras was playing on a sun-baked Court 2 Wednesday at Wimbledon. No. 3 Andre Agassi would take Centre Court in the afternoon. As Sampras played against lucky loser George Bastl of Switzerland, ranked 145th, there was the faintest smell of smoke in the distance, wafting over the grounds.
It was a signal that 2002 Wimbledon was about to go up, inexplicably, in smoke.
Shockingly, after being linked so many times by success, Sampras and Agassi were joined in defeat, exiting in the second round within a couple of hours. It was the first time since they both started playing at Wimbledon that Agassi and Sampras have lost before the third round.
Bastl, formerly of USC, who gained entrance into the event only when another player withdrew, beat Sampras, 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4. Agassi's loss was slightly less embarrassing but more one-sided. Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand played brilliantly, moving Agassi from side to side at will, winning, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-2.
At the end of the day, there was one other crushing loss to an American, though in a different way. Youngster James Blake lost a marathon to Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands, as the former champion prevailed, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 11-9.
The day of disruption also included the loss of No. 2 Marat Safin of Russia, who was ousted by diminutive Olivier Rochus of Belgium. The 5-foot-5 Rochus defeated Safin, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (1). It is the first time in the Open era, which began in 1968, that five of the top eight seeded players have lost before the third round.
Sampras was devastated. He had counted on turning his year around here and has now gone two years without a tournament title since Wimbledon 2000. His eyes glistened as he answered questions.
On the court, he cut a solitary figure after his defeat, the first time he has lost this early at Wimbledon since 1991. Usually, he escapes quickly from the court after a devastating loss, but on this day, the seven-time champion sat woodenly in his chair, staring at his racket strings, contemplating his future.
He said he plans on returning. Sampras did not want it to end with a loss on Court 2, which is known as the graveyard of champions.
"I was thinking that," he said. "There's not a question if I'm going to be back or not back. It all happened so quickly, from 4-4, a matter of five minutes, 'Boom, I lost the match.' You just kind of sit there, you're a little numb sitting there."
During changeovers Sampras read a note from his wife, actress Bridgette Wilson, for inspiration.
He needed some form of motivation. Through the first two sets, Sampras moved sluggishly. He seemed unable to handle any low slice from Bastl and kept spraying his backhand.
And, unusually, his serve betrayed him.
"My serve just let me down," said Sampras, who double-faulted 10 times. "There's always one shot I can rely on when I'm not hitting the ball that well, my serve. I don't know what my percentage was, but I wasn't getting any in."
The last turning point came when Sampras was broken in the ninth game of the fifth set when he pushed a forehand half-volley wide, unable to get past the service line to make the volley. Bastl finished it by holding his serve, winning on his first match point when Sampras hit a forehand passing shot long.
There was no shortage of opinions on Sampras' woes after he left the court with a sad wave. It was only the second grass-court victory for Bastl in his career, and the first was in the first round against another lucky loser. ("It's a nice story," Bastl said.)
Said commentator John Lloyd, "It was the worst grass-court match I've ever seen Pete Sampras play."
Said his former coach Paul Annacone: "I think it's mostly mental. I think 99% of what is going on is mental right now.... Emotionally, it gets wearing. You're used to winning five, six, seven tournaments a year and then you don't win one for three years and you actually start working harder. You start to work yourself into a deficit."
The shocking impact of Sampras' loss was lessened a bit when Agassi was dismissed by the little-known Thai player, who is ranked 67th. Agassi was hurt by a close call at 5-5 in the second-set tiebreaker, which gave Srichaphan a set point, and he took advantage of the break.
"I'm a little stunned," Agassi said. "Certainly disappointed, just never found my rhythm out there today. Played a very average match against a guy who was taking it to me and deserved to win....
"A set apiece or two sets down is a big swing. I thought the ball was long. But what can you do?"
Those are the same kinds of questions Sampras has been asking himself through a frustrating 2002. He was upset at being placed on Court 2.
"I wish I was playing out there on one of the show courts," he said. "I plan on being back. I love playing here. It's a tough loss. I really felt I like I could do it here. I just came up short today. Pretty bummed out."