WIMBLEDON, England -- Vladimir Voltchkov wears borrowed shorts and donated shoes. He learned to play tennis outside a car factory in Minsk. He has a world ranking of 247.
Oh, and by the way, Voltchkov is one match away from the final at Wimbledon.
Pete Sampras is there. So is Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter.
But Vladimir Voltchkov?
The 22-year-old Voltchkov, from the former Soviet republic of Belarus, made history by becoming the lowest-ranked player ever to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon and the first qualifier to make the men's final four since John McEnroe in 1977.
Now Voltchkov gets to face the top-seeded Sampras, the grass-court master chasing his seventh Wimbledon title and record 13th Grand Slam championship. Agassi will play Rafter in Friday's other semifinal.
The women's semifinals were set for Thursday, featuring the all-sister showdown between Venus and Serena Williams. Defending champion Lindsay Davenport plays unseeded 17-year-old Jelena Dokic in the other match.
''It's like a dream,'' Voltchkov said after beating Byron Black in straight sets in Wednesday's quarters. ''When I think about playing the semifinals at Wimbledon against Pete, probably the greatest player ever, there is nothing more you can really wish for.''
Voltchkov is no stranger to success at the All England Club, having won the Wimbledon junior title in 1996. But he hadn't done much since, laboring mostly on the lower-tier challenger circuit and playing for Belarus in Davis Cup.
Voltchkov hadn't played a single senior-level tournament all year until advancing through the qualifying rounds to make it into the Wimbledon draw.
''I guess it's pretty simple,'' he said. ''The surface suits my game perfectly. I like to hit the ball flat. I like to have the ball pretty low.''
While Sampras and other top players get paid millions in clothing and shoe endorsements, Voltchkov has to scrounge for something to wear.
On Wednesday, he wore shorts and a shirt from rival sportswear companies. The shorts were borrowed from Russian player Marat Safin.
''I guess the shorts and tops did their job pretty well,'' he said.
Last week, Voltchkov wore shoes donated by one company. A rival footwear firm provided two pairs for Wednesday's match.
''I'll give him some hardcourt shoes,'' Sampras said jokingly. ''I won't give him any grasscourt shoes.''
Voltchkov has been staying in a rented apartment with fellow Belarussian Max Mirnyi, with Voltchkov's father doing the cooking. He's been to see the movie ''Gladiator'' four times during the tournament.
''It gave me some inspiration,'' Voltchkov said. ''Today I felt like I was in a great arena on Court 1. It's going to feel probably better to go on Centre Court against Pete. But I'm a little bit scared of that.''
Voltchkov's earnings through the end of last year totaled $174,733. By reaching the semis here, he's guaranteed $180,000. He would double that in the improbable event he beats Sampras, and walk away with a cool $720,000 if he should somehow win the tournament.
''I just hope to go out there and play well,'' Voltchkov said. ''If it's good enough to make competition for (Sampras), I'll be really happy.''
Sampras isn't taking him lightly.
''He's proven to be a great player,'' Sampras said. ''He's going to be very confident, with nothing to lose. Everybody is a threat and anything can happen.''
Sampras has made it to the semis without facing a seeded player. If he beats Voltchkov, he'll be the first to reach the final without meeting a seed since John McEnroe in 1981, the year he beat Bjorn Borg for the title.
Sampras looked sluggish Wednesday in his 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4 win over Jan-Michael Gambill, whom he praised as ''the future of American tennis.''
Sampras, who has been receiving treatment for tendinitis above his left ankle and skipping practice between matches, was downbeat.
''It's definitely been a tough week,'' he said. ''You go through an emotional roller-coaster with your good days and your bad days. It's not an ideal situation for me.''
Agassi and Rafter have shown the best form so far. Agassi beat Rafter's Australian compatriot, Mark Philippoussis, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-4 in their quarterfinal, and Rafter downed Alexander Popp 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (1).
Agassi beat Rafter, a classic serve-and-volleyer, in their semifinals at Wimbledon a year ago. This time, Rafter, a two-time U.S. Open champion, hopes he can turn the tables.
''You hope Andre has one of his bad days,'' Rafter said. ''He's playing good tennis to beat Mark. ... I'm going to have to step that notch up again. There's no weakness in Andre at all.''
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