The semi-final went like a dream for Rusedski for almost two sets before taking a turn for the worse in the first of two tie-breaks. Once Sampras grew more confident of dealing with Rusedski's mighty serve on occasions other than when the British No 1 produced clean aces, the American's shots began to flow with the customary smoothness.
Sampras won, 3-6 7-6 7-6 6-3, after two and a quarter hours and will play Australia's Pat Rafter in today's final. Rafter, who took Sampras's United States Open title three weeks ago, squeezed past the Czech Petr Korda in yesterday's other semi-final, 7-5 3-6 6-7 7-6 8-7, after four hours and 16 minutes. Korda eliminated Sampras in the fourth round of the US Open. Rusedski ought to keep a video of last night's first set for posterity. It shows Sampras at a loss for the 20 minutes it took the Briton to clinch it. Rusedski delivered the ball with such power and accuracy that he dropped only three points on his serve in the opening set. And two of those were double-faults.
Moreover, Rusedski returned serve with such skill and concentration that Sampras was given little leeway. Granted, it was a double-fault for 0- 30 that created problems for the American in the sixth game. But, given that impetus, Rusedski hit a splendid forehand drive for 15-40 and converted the second of the break points with an impressive return to Sampras's feet off a second serve.
Twelve of Rusedski's 37 aces were crammed into the opening set, and the Briton continued to perform with great assurance in the second set, raising the prospect that he might finally put one over on Sampras after defeats in their four previous matches.
Sampras, never slackening in his determination to work his way into the contest, was rewarded when his opponent had the bad luck to be deceived by a net cord when the American returned a second serve on the third point of the second set tie-break. Rusedski netted a forehand volley for 1-2 and did not win another point until the start of the third set.
He then matched Sampras point for point, not least in a marathon game when serving at 4-4. Sampras created seven break points. Rusedski rescued them, finishing with an ace.
When it came to the second tie-break, Rusedski double-faulted on the opening point and was 2-4 down before Sampras beckoned him back into the fray with a double-fault of his own. Levelling to 4-4 with his 31st ace, Rusedski was then beaten by a forehand pass and Sampras went on to win the shoot-out, 7-4.
There was little doubt about the outcome after that, and if Rusedski had caused gasps from the crowd with his serving in the first set, Sampras had the audience drooling in the fourth. He allowed his opponent only one point on his serve to finish his night's work in style.
"I felt I was playing very well for two sets," Rusedski said. "Unfortunately, he was the better player in the tie-breaks. But I look at the match as a positive. I'm taking a step closer to realising my goals.''
Even if Sampras were to lose to Rafter in today's final, he would leave the Olympic Hall with $1.25m, $500,000 of which is his bonus for winning Wimbledon and the Australian Open in qualifying for Munich. Victory would bring Sampras a total of $2m, more than doubling his prize money for the year.Reuse content