Tennis: Grand Slam Cup - Sampras banishes Bjorkman in Davis Cup rehearsal

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The Independent Online
As the $6m Compaq Grand Slam Cup moves into its closing stages today and tomorrow in Munich, Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion, continues to cash in. John Roberts gets his calculator out.

Apologies for constantly pushing figures at you like a demented accountant, but they do make interesting reading. Pete Sampras, for example, has made $6.318m (pounds 4.2m) from his six appearances at the Compaq Grand Slam Cup here - which is approaching a quarter of his total career prize-money.

By advancing to today's semi-finals with a victory against Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, 7-6, 6-4, Sampras took his takings for the week to $925,000 (including a $500,000 bonus for winning two of the Grand Slam titles, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

Such is the commercialism in the sport nowadays that the sight of one of the ball boys with the name of an Italian clothing sponsor stencilled on his forehead came as no surprise. Presumably, the lad's pocket money has been supplemented accordingly.

For all the wealth on offer here, Sampras and Bjorkman (pounds 250,000 as a quarter-finalist) will be keener to do well for their respective nations when Sweden and the United States meet in the Davis Cup final in December.

The most significant part of yesterday's proceedings for Sampras came after the match, when he received the Fred Perry Award as the top performer in the Grand Slam men's singles championships this year.

Sampras was just too good for Bjorkman, his victory atoning for the one defeat on his record in six meetings with the Swede. That was in three sets in the pre-Wimbledon Stella Artois Championships at London's Queen's Club in June.

Bjorkman, it will be remembered, was defeated by Britain's Greg Rusedski in the semi-finals of the US Open. Regarded as one of the best returners of serve in the game, he did his best to keep Sampras at bay, but crumpled when his own serve let him down in the tie-break.

The Swede, having double-faulted to present Sampras with the first set point, at 5-6, double-faulted on the second set point, at 6-7. His second serve clipped the net cord and bounced wide, ruining 47 minutes of effort.

To be fair, Sampras was rarely in danger. Bjorkman had to save the only break points in the opening set, both in the sixth game and created by another of his six double-faults. He salvaged that situation with two aces and two service winners.

Bjorkman impressed the crowd in the opening game of the second set by winning a crucial point at 30-30 by hitting a ball between his legs, a la Yannick Noah.

Encouraged by the reception this received, the Swede pushed Sampras to deuce when the American served in the next game. Sampras's response was emphatic - consecutive aces to level at 1-1.

He then broke Bjorkman in the next game, hitting a magnificent backhand pass down the line to apply the pressure and then watched his opponent double-fault on game point. Once again, Bjorkman clipped the net cord with his second serve. This time he showed signs of nerves beforehand by pausing, mid-toss.

There appeared little prospect of Sampras being caught from that point, and the American treated the crowd to one of his trademark slam-dunk smashes.

The match was over after 80 minutes, Sampras acknowledging the applause as he left the court to wait to see who today's opponent would be, Rusedski or Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the world No 4.

"I feel a lot more adjusted to the time difference than I did on the previous days," Sampras said, "but I still think the court surface is too fast. Every year that I came I tell the same thing to whoever the tournament director happens to be, but it's still too quick." He was also peeved that he could not get Ryder Cup coverage on the television at his hotel.

The International Tennis Federation has allowed Morocco to play in next year's Davis Cup despite their refusal to go to Israel for a match this season. The Moroccans, who automatically forfeited the tie from 19 to 21 September and were relegated to Euro/African Group II as punishment, ran the risk of being suspended for next year's tournament also. But the International Tennis Federation's committee of management allowed them to keep their place in the 1998 competition. Although the Moroccan Tennis Federation submitted a list of players for the match in Tel Aviv, it later said the team would not go to Israel because it had not received guarantees of security. The security requests came in the wake of two bombings in Jerusalem which targeted Muslims. "The committee took into consideration the current unrest in Israel which seriously affects the Muslim community in particular," the ITF said yesterday.