Exhausting victory for Sampras

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Pete Sampras had to be carried off court suffering from cramp after an exhausting five-set victory against Andrei Chesnokov in the opening match of the Davis Cup final in Moscow yesterday.

The opening day ended with the United States and Russia tied at 1-1 after Yevgeny Kafelnikov had beaten Jim Courier in straight sets.

Sampras, the world No1 and Wimbledon champion, defeated the 90th-ranked Chesnokov 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4. With his injured team-mate, Andre Agassi, among the spectators, Sampras threw his arms in the air to celebrate his victory but then collapsed with cramp. Two team trainers helped him up and carried him off the court.

"I just immediately went down to the ground and my leg started cramping. It was such an emotional match, physical and a lot of nerves. It just goes to show that in the Davis Cup there is a lot of pressure," Sampras said. "I just lay down and immediately put ice on my leg. I took a couple of pills to get rid of the cramp and now I feel fine."

Chesnokov drew first blood, breaking Sampras's serve twice to take the first set. But Sampras, who said before the game he would have to be patient and aggressive to win, recovered form in the second and third sets.

Sampras, winning many points with lightning long shots, advanced to the net more than his 29-year-old opponent but committed nearly twice as many unforced errors.

The 24-year-old American, who is more at home on faster courts, landed only about half his first serves in. The match looked to be over with Sampras 4-2 up in the fourth set but the dogged Russian broke back and won the tie-break 7-5.

Chesnokov came within inches of winning what turned out to be a crucial sixth game of the final set, forcing Sampras to five deuces before the American saved the game. Sampras promptly broke the Russian's serve and went on to win 6-4. At the end, Chesnokov threw down his racket in disgust.

Despite Kafelnikov's 7-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory, he and Courier looked evenly matched - trading powerful shots in a series of long rallies. Kafelnikov took time to settle in the first set, double-faulting three times, before convincingly winning a tie-break 7-1. The second set went with serve to 6-5 until Courier dropped his service after the Russian initially squandered two set points.

Courier trailed 3-0 in the third, broke back to 3-2 but eventually lost 6-3. He admitted he had not played his best. "I'm going to regroup and come back on Sunday and show a little bit more than I showed today," he insisted.