From the baseline, Patrick Rafter swings with a grunt that sounds like "Bam!" Then he rushes the net, sprinting head-on into shots from opponents and leaping or lunging to finish off another exciting point.
Rafter can thrill fans during a changeover, too. He removed his undershirt three games into Friday's victory at Wimbledon, drawing whistles from women in the crowd.He's an Australian Agassi, delighting spectators with frenzied play and sex appeal. Rafter is already a cover boy for the ATP Tour, and by winning Wimbledon, he would provide a badly needed boost for the popularity of the men's game.
"We're in a bit of a low patch," he said. "I would like to be someone who could help start that back up again."
Rafter took a step forward Friday, advancing to the round of 16 by beating Magnus Gustafsson 6-3, 6-7 (7-9), 6-2, 6-1. It's his best showing in a Grand Slam since winning the U.S. Open in September.
The stunning success in New York made Rafter an international celebrity, but the Aussie heartthrob then slipped into a slump. He lost in the third round at the Australian Open, lost in the second round at the French Open and lost a crucial Davis Cup match to Byron Black when Zimbabwe upset the Aussies in April.
Like other recent Grand Slam finalists, the 26-year-old Rafter has been a one-hit wonder, compounding the doldrums in a sport starved for stars.
"I hope that the men's game isn't really going that flat," he said. "It's important for some of us to have consistent results and stay up there. Unfortunately I haven't had consistent results lately."
The past six months will be forgotten if Rafter wins Wimbledon. His difficult path includes England's Tim Henman or a rematch with Black in the fourth round, followed by potential matches against Australian Open champion Petr Korda, four-time Wimbledon champ Pete Sampras and 1996 Wimbledon champ Richard Krajicek.
"If I can get more rhythm on my serve, I think my chances are as good as anyone else's," Rafter said. "I've got myself in another good situation to have a crack at it."
Because of rain delays, only two other men's matches were completed Friday. Two-time Wimbledon runner-up Goran Ivanisevic advanced to the third round by beating Andrei Medvedev 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-0, and Daniel Vacek eliminated Marc-Kevin Goellner 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
Although Rafter has yet to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals, his serve-and-volley game is perfectly suited to grass, and he smothered Gustafsson on another damp, gray afternoon at the All England Club.
Rafter pulled away in the final two sets, and after winning match point, he thrust his fist into the arm and smacked a ball into the stands.
"It's encouraging for me, because I'm winning the big points, and I've been able to lift myself when I need to," he said. "I'm playing well."