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BUD COLLINS

A Serb serves up Big W surprise

LONDON -- And now another Serb is heard from. A Serbian whose favorite light reading is Dostoevsky, who yearned to be a blond and tried it for a while, dropped by Wimbledon yesterday, black-bearded, to make it a blacker day for the first of the notables to tumble.

If Janko Tipsarevic isn't a household name outside Belgrade, neither is Laura Granville beyond the California campus of Stanford. Nevertheless, they were the chief mischief makers of a long afternoon, a mixture of occasional sunshine, rain delays, and chilly gusts. Typical of this edition of the Big W.

With the local hullabaloo over the native son/sun Tim Henman packed away for another year, it was time for some names to run into trouble with the non-names. Doing a little better than the venture in Paris, the United States was bearing up with four survivors -- the Sisters Williams, Andy Roddick, and the unexpected undertaker, Granville -- but James Blake was gone. Not great for such a huge, affluent country, considering that tiny Serbia has two men and two women remaining in singles.

But a lot better than last year, when the solo American at this stage was virtually anonymous Shenay Perry.

"No, I didn't know it was a match point," said Tipsarevic, No. 64, who eluded it while overcoming No. 5 Fernando Gonzalez, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 8-6. "I made myself not think about the score. Just play. If I knew it was match point, there was the possibility I would choke."

Choke he did not. Keeping a rally going until Gonzalez, the Australian Open runner-up, missed a backhand at 5-6, 30-40, Tipsarevic rushed in for a climaxing volley two games later when his own match point arrived. It was a beautiful moment for the least recognized of the Serbian gang, whose right arm tattoo -- "Beauty will save the world" -- is a quote from Dostoevsky's "The Idiot." "This was my dream since I was 12 to win a match on Centre Court," said 23-year-old Tipsarevic.

Like Tipsarevic, Granville, a 26-year-old Chicagoan, had to spend a long time in the bush leagues before doing well in the bigs, a route that led her to beat the champion of a decade ago, Martina Hingis, 6-4, 6-2, at the notorious Graveyard, Court 2. Many a champ has been interred there by lesser personages, and both Granville and the 27-year-old Hingis had heard the tales of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Serena and Venus, Richard Krajicek, and Yevgeny Kafelnikov going under there.

"It never bothered me. I never lost there," said the 11th-ranked Hingis, who has been rehabbing back and hip injuries and probably should have resisted the temptation to enter. "I won two matches, which was encouraging. I missed the French and didn't want to wait until the US Open for my next major. But give Laura credit. She was hitting big."

True. Twice NCAA champion for Stanford (2000-01), she lost to Hingis, 6-2, 6-0, in her pro debut, the 2001 US Open. "I hit about eight balls in the court," she said with a laugh. Granville fondly remembers her first Wimbledon, five years ago, when she beat Mary Pierce, an Australian and French Open champion, and attained the fourth round. She never did that again in a major until now.

"I didn't realize at first how tough it would be as a professional, the travel, the competition," Granville said. "It was hard playing those challenger tournaments. I'd be in the middle of Oklahoma with two or three people watching, and wondering what I was doing there. You want your ranking to go up so you can be on the big stage. Mine did, into the 40s. But it went down, too, and I had to go back. That was really hard.

"The clay season this year I was struggling. I didn't win a match. It set me back confidence-wise" -- and down to No. 77. "But this tournament, the big stage, makes up for it."

Blake was hurting emotionally after bungling the decisive tiebreaker, and losing to ex-French Open champ Juan Carlos Ferrero, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4). Curiously for such a good player, Blake has the green grass blues, and his confidence flees in the crunch at the Big W. It happened in the breaker, where he led, 3-1 and 4-2, and didn't win another point, flubbing a routine open-court volley, then skying a forehand on match point. He topped the Spaniard only in errors, 29-17.

He said, "I'm playing better on grass," and looked it for a set. "I'll be glad to get back on hard courts, where I feel most comfortable."

Asserting themselves in tiebreakers at nightfall, Roddick and Roger Federer, heading for a semifinal collision, avoided having to finish today. Roddick, volleying better than ever, knocked off a tough Spanish lefty, Fernando Verdasco, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2). Federer, tested for the first time, and against a guy who has beaten him, nailed Russian Marat Safin, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4).

The Belle of Belgrade, No. 3 Jelena Jankovic, had an escape almost as narrow as countryman Tipsarevic. " 'Is there any way out?' I was thinking," she said. "But I was helped to rest by the rain that came after our second set." Then she proceeded to beat Czech lefthander Lucie Safarova, 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

Worse off was her jovial mother, Snezana. "She says she didn't even watch my third set," said Jankovic, chuckling. "She probably got lost somewhere giving tickets to people. People think we get hundreds of tickets. We don't. But everybody wants them."

Isn't that something? A year ago, nobody in Serbia knew what a Wimbledon ticket was. Now the country's a tennis power.

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