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French sting Henin, Roddick

Top-seeded Belgian falls to No. 18 Bartoli in a women's semifinal. The No. 3 American loses to N. 12 Gasquet in a men's quarterfinal.

July 07, 2007|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Of all the loopy Wimbledon things that have happened at histrionic Wimbledon twilights, maybe none could surpass Friday's sequence.

First, an anonymous 22-year-old Frenchwoman whose practice methods have included the use of a fishing rod scored a shocking semifinal turnaround on Centre Court and credited it -- seriously -- to spotting actor Pierce Brosnan in the Royal Box.

"I said to myself, 'It's not possible I play so bad in front of him,' " Marion Bartoli said after beating top-seeded Justine Henin.

Then, in a simultaneous match on Court No. 1, a 21-year-old Frenchman found himself in a third-set tiebreaker down two sets to Andy Roddick, who had won 18 straight tiebreakers, whereupon the Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, started spewing sublime winners until his total reached a gargantuan 93.

"I still can't believe this is happening," Gasquet said after shooing Roddick.

The comment closed an evening that did not so much flout logic as maul it.

Bartoli, playing her first Grand Slam semifinal in her 23rd Grand Slam event, seeded No. 18, took a 6-1 hammering in the first set against the hottest player on earth, Henin, whose 16-match win streak included a 6-1, 6-3 breeze against Bartoli at the Eastbourne tuneup.

Gasquet, playing his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in his 16th Grand Slam event, seeded No. 12, took a 6-4, 6-4 pelting and went down a third-set break of service against No. 3 Roddick, whose screaming service forged his path to two finals here.

Well, Bartoli started hitting her two-handed forehands and backhands like Monica Seles and won, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1, reaching the final opposite Venus Williams, whom she has never played.

And Gasquet won that tiebreaker and then another before falling on his back in mirth when he won, 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 8-6, reaching a semifinal opposite Roger Federer.

Henin wound up befuddled: "I still don't really realize what did happen. I don't understand what did happen."

Roddick wound up inconsolable: "Well, it's another lost opportunity at Wimbledon.... I'd love to make you try to understand what it feels like in the pit of your stomach right now, but I don't know if I can do that. I don't know if I'm articulate enough to really put that into words for you."

Pierce Brosnan wound up relevant: "He watch me and I play so bad it was unbelievable," Bartoli said, "so I try to feel it a bit more the ball, play more smartly. I saw he was cheering for me, so I said, 'Oh, maybe it's good.' I kept going and I won, so maybe a little bit for Pierce Brosnan."

Roddick's coach, Jimmy Connors, so glad to chat up old triumphs on BBC, wound up mum: "Don't bother me now, please."

Bartoli's father and coach and employer of eccentric training regimens, Dr. Walter Bartoli, wound up awed: "I'm completely impressed by what my young daughter did today."

And Wimbledon wound up with two fresh memories that occluded even some other gaudy stuff from midday. Already Novak Djokovic, seeded fourth, and Marcos Baghdatis, seeded 10th, had played a five-hour exertion won by Djokovic, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (9), 6-7 (3), 4-6, 7-5.

With that, Djokovic had reached a French Open semifinal reprise opposite No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who in wiping out No. 7 Tomas Berdych on Friday became the first men's semifinalist, absurd considering the five-day, third-round match that once left him two rounds behind Federer.

And in another mark of a rainy Wimbledon (even by Wimbledon standards), Federer finished a match and greeted the media for the first time in seven days.

The four-times-defending champion lost a set -- shriek! -- then ran off Juan Carlos Ferrero, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, then told of his bizarre five-day layoff forged by rain and the injured Tommy Haas' fourth-round withdrawal.

"Yeah, I went to the city once or twice," Federer said. "Went to the hairdresser. Watched movies. Played cards."

Hours later, he figured to play a semifinal against Roddick, who desperately wants to win Wimbledon but hasn't mostly because of Federer, who beat him in the 2004 and 2005 finals.

Somewhere in the throes of the Roddick-Gasquet third set, Gasquet drifted within speaking range of his coach, Eric Deblicker. Gasquet said that he told him he felt angry but that Deblicker "didn't answer and even he looked a little angry."

Long loaded up with promise since he turned up on a French tennis magazine cover at age 9, Gasquet began to unload all of it, especially with these gorgeous backhands that kept making Roddick look static.

Gasquet began winning, and at about that time, Bartoli came off from her stunner and immediately waxed to the BBC about a former James Bond.

Although her father would credit a change in grip for the sudden progress (fourth round of the French Open as well), young Marion would say, "I was focusing on Pierce Brosnan, because he is so beautiful."

She said she wished he'd come to the final.

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