Exit of Sampras opens the door for Rusedski

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The Independent Online
Pete Sampras's elimination from the United States Open has created a window of opportunity the size of Macy's, and the temptation to stare in wonder and anticipation might prove the undoing of some of the contenders.

Richard Krajicek, due to meet Britain's Greg Rusedski in the quarter- finals today, admitted that his mind wandered on Monday night when it ought to have stayed focused on his Spanish opponent, Felix Mantilla.

"It was the reason why I was a little bit tight in the first couple of games," the former Wimbledon champion said. "I started thinking too much about what a great chance it was with the draw opening up instead of just concentrating on the match. That was very stupid and unprofessional of me."

The Dutchman snapped out of his reverie with the following thought: "I have to first beat this guy [Mantilla], then I have to play somebody who beat me four out of five times [Rusedski] before I can worry that I'm not going to play Sampras in the semi-finals."

Krajicek went on to beat Mantilla in straight sets and could be forgiven his early lapse, given the implications of Sampras result against Petr Korda, of the Czech Republic, who won, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6.

The world No 1 was aiming for his third consecutive US Open singles championship, his third Grand Slam singles title of the year, having won in Australia and at Wimbledon, and the 11th of his career.

Korda was simply determined to maximise a marvellous talent which has failed to realise its true potential because of inconsistent form and injuries. The 29-year-old left-hander is capable of breathtaking shots and baffling errors, much to the consternation of his advisers.

The plus for spectators is that Korda's matches are frequently epic and rarely dull. He is given to celebrating spectacular shots with eccentric scissorkicks that would cause cartoon animators to think twice. Many a leap was justified by his performance against Sampras, who was unable to repeat his narrow escape against Korda in their five-setter in the fourth round at Wimbledon.

Sampras, although unable to capitalise on a 3-0 lead in the final set, gave Korda credit for the victory. "He's a great shot-maker and has one of the best backhands I've ever played against," the American said. "He's got a great game when he's playing well. Petr can also go off the boil and play some poor tennis. Today he was very solid and kept his composure."

Korda decided on a crucial part of his game plan, putting pressure on Sampras's backhand, after making a telephone call to Nottingham's Tony Pickard, his former coach.

It was Pickard, Korda added, who persuaded him to have surgery to cure a groin injury which had threatened his career. "It was in October 1995, Friday the 13th. I will remember that day."

Korda's quarter-final opponent is Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, the winner to play Krajicek or Rusedski in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Rusedski, as Krajicek mentioned, has won four of their five previous matches, most recently at New Haven, Connecticut, en route to Flushing Meadow. Today will be their first meeting in a Grand Slam championship, over the best of five sets.

Having advanced a round further here than his British rival Tim Henman did last year, Rusedski has the opportunity to follow the example of Henman's victory against Krajicek in the fourth round at Wimbledon.

"We match up well," Rusedski said. "We always play 7-6 or 7-5 in the third. For some reason, I always seem to pull out in front. It's one or two points here or there that I manage to win. I don't know why. Sometimes you match up well with certain players and you manage to take that little edge.

"I think I've got a good opportunity to go further and to make it to the semi-finals. But I have to take it one match at a time. Just one day at a time really." Rusedski's marks his 24th birthday on Saturday.

The gifted Chilean Marcelo Rios, the No 10 seed, became the first quarter- finalist in the lower half of the draw yesterday, defeating Sergi Bruguera, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. "I think he's very complete," the seventh-seeded Bruguera said of Rios. "He returns very well. He serves well. He moves well. He's a good competitor."

The Spanish former French Open champion would not commit himself so far as to tip Rios to take Sampras's crown.

Sweden, whose best days at the US Open were enjoyed by Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander, have two players in the last eight. Bjorkman is joined by Magnus Larsson, who defeated South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, 6-3, 7- 6, 6-3.