Rosset makes a late recovery

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The Independent Online
Excited spectators began queuing for Cedric Pioline in mid- afternoon, and were rather disappointed to find that a couple of foreigners were still hogging the Centre Court. Yesterday was supposed to belong to a Frenchman.

Watching Switzerland's Olympic champion, Marc Rosset, retrieve a two- set deficit to defeat Germany's Bernd Karbacher, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6- 0, held only limited appeal. For one thing, the match lacked the drama and emotion of Pete Sampras's comeback against Jim Courier the day before. For another thing, it dragged on for three and a half hours. Still, it was an opportunity to scout Pioline's semi-final opponent.

The wishful thinking ceased when Michael Stich imposed his will on the proceedings, beating Pioline, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. The only occasions the German No 15 seed showed signs of wavering were during the second set, when his concentration was disturbed by spectators reacting noisily to his questioning of line calls, and in the opening game of the third set, when Pioline forced him to save three break points.

Stich, who underwent surgery three months ago after aggravating an ankle injury while dressing in a locker-room in Milan, only decided to come to the French Open at the last moment. Short of clay-court matches, he thought it might be better to prepare for Wimbledon early.

History suggests he made the right decision. On the previous occasion he advanced to the French Open semi-finals, losing to Courier in 1991, he went on to win the Wimbledon title.

Rosset, the No 14 seed, has also recovered from a bizarre injury. He became so frustrated at the points being missed when playing mixed doubles with the 15-year-old Martina Hingis at the Hopman Cup in Perth in January that he belted an advertising board with his racket, damaging his hand. Unfortunately, he did not notice that the board was supported by a metal bar.

Rosset, in common with Stich and Sampras, has a penchant for attacking play, and sunny conditions have contributed to making the courts slightly faster than usual. One can imagine the frustration experienced by Boris Becker as sits out the championships, nursing a strained thigh.

Sampras, who tomorrow plays the Russian No 6 seed, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, was still wearing a tennis shirt and shorts when he turned up to receive his award at the ITF World Champions' Dinner on Tuesday night.

"I must apologise for being over-dressed," Sampras told the dinner-suited guests, who were simply pleased to see him so soon after his five-set marathon.

Sampras paid tribute to his late coach, Tim Gullikson. "The last two months have been very emotional for me," he said, "but he's with me in my head, in my brain. He was talking to me today. I miss him and wish he was here to share these matches with me. A lot of my results this year have been for my friend, who is no longer with us."

Earlier, when asked where the needle was on his gas tank after playing three five-set matches, Sampras said: "It's not on empty. These two days off are going to be good for me to get some energy back. Kafelnikov is a good clay-court player. Again, I have to believe I can win that match. I've done it before, in Moscow, so I certainly hope it happens again."

Reviewing the Courier match, he said: "In the course of the tournament, with the long matches I played, maybe it took its toll. Fortunately the court was playing reasonably quick, and my serve just kind of won it for me. At the end I got a lot of free points, quick points, which helped me to recover that much quicker. After some long exchanges we had, it was a little bit tough to catch my breath.

"I don't know if I really believed I could win these matches in the past against the Brugueras and Couriers. Playing Kafelnikov, I know what to expect and vice versa. I know what he likes.

"He's pretty much breezed through this tournament without any problems. He's playing with a lot of confidence. I've beaten him before, so there's no reason why I can't do it again. It's going to be a good fight."

Which has become par for the course for as he attempts to become only the fifth player in history to win all four Grand Slam titles in his career.