reports from Essen
As Pete Sampras prepared to execute the match point which would advance him into the semi-finals of the Eurocard Open and a step closer to regaining the status of No 1 in the world, his opponent, Jim Courier, lay on his back on the court more than long enough to have been counted out by the umpire.
Courier's trademark cap was at his feet, so it was evidently a serious matter. From being a set and 2-4 down, the Floridan had taken a 5-0 lead in a second-set tie break, only for Sampras to whittle it away, save three set points and be on the point of victory. The frustrated Courier made his protest because he was convinced that Sampras' service return at 6- 6 had landed wide of a sideline.
"They missed it," Courier said later, referring to the line judge and umpire. "Five players tell me they saw it replayed 10 times on video in the players' lounge and it was clearly wide. I'm coming to expect it. I've got to get by it, because you've got to make your own luck."
Sampras certainly considered himself lucky to have recovered from 0-5 in a shoot-out for the first time in his career. "The thought of a third set had come into my mind," he said, "and then before I knew it I had match point on my serve."
Was it difficult to keep his concentration when Courier was on the floor? "I didn't know what was going on. I looked up, and Jim was on the ground. But you still like your chances. It's still my serve. I was fortunate to have a match point." He secured victory with a smash, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6), and has now won 13 out 16 of his contests with Courier.
Courier, 2-4 down in the second set and wondering if he would ever hit another decent forehand, was upset when called for a foot-fault for the second time. He responded by twice stepping inside the baseline and glaring at the linesman. Having played the clown, Courier reverted to straight man, winning three consecutive games. A third set might have been interesting. As it is Sampras will play Thomas Muster, who defeated Sergi Bruguera 6-4, 7-6.
MaliVai Washington, who eliminated Andre Agassi, the current No 1, in the third round, progressed to the semi-finals with a 7-5, 6-4 against Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, the ninth seed.
Washington now meets the Frenchman, Arnaud Boetsch, ranked No 22 and climbing, who defeated Richard Krajicek, the defending champion, 6-4, 6-2.
Boris Becker may miss next week's Paris indoor tournament because of a back injury. After pulling out of the doubles yesterday, the German said he would decide about the French event after seeing a doctor.