Sampras gets through the heat treatment

Tennis: World No 1 toils in the sun before winning in Melbourne as his compatriot joins Graf on the sidelines for Australian Open
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The Independent Online
Pete Sampras, the world No1, was reminded of the physical challenges which lie ahead at next week's Australian Open as he sweated through his opening match of the Colonial Classic event at Kooyong yesterday.

The American, officially confirmed as top seed for the year's first Grand Slam tournament starting on Monday, had to cope with temperatures of up to 36C as he beat the Australian Wally Masur 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.

The result took him into the semi-finals of the eight-man exhibition, but Sampras acknowledged the heat would force him to make concessions when he begins the defence of his title at Flinders Park.

"When the sun is out it creates the hottest conditions of the year by far," said Sampras, revealing he would have to wear a hat in future. "I play a lot in Florida and there's no comparison."

Sampras and half of the population of Melbourne are already fascinated to see how his newly shaven, prematurely balding American rival Andre Agassi will react.

The 24-year-old from Las Vegas has never experienced Melbourne's often extreme climate and Sampras commented drily: "I suggest he wears a hat."

Agassi aside, the majority of the world's top 10 male players have elected to complete their preparations for the Australian Open by playing at Kooyong.

Boris Becker, Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg, ranked third sixth and seventh respectively, were not required to toil too long as they completed the first-day victories needed to have a chance of reaching the final under the event's unusual format.

Becker beat Jason Stoltenberg 6-4, 6-2, Chang defeated Pat Cash 6-2, 6-4 and Edberg triumphed by a similar scoreline over Michael Stich to relegate the German into the four-man "consolation" pool where the minor placings will be settled.

Edberg, who won the Doha tournament at the weekend, only flew into Australia in the early hours of the morning and, like Becker, was relieved to play in slightly cooler conditions later in the day against an out-of-sorts Stich.

"He wasn't hitting the ball too well and wasn't playing up to his standard," said Edberg, relishing a return to Kooyong for the first time since he won the last Australian Open title to be played on grass in 1987.

Becker and Chang, both currently content with their form, will meet in today's first semi-final with Sampras and Edberg playing on Friday for the other final place.

In the Adelaide International Challenge round-robin event, Agassi's preparations got off to a poor start when he was beaten in straight sets by Australian Patrick Rafter. After losing 6-3, 6-2 in 52 minutes, Agassi paid tribute to Rafter's performance but said he was not confident throughout the brief match: "It was tough for me to see," he said.

"I struggle to win a lot in the twilight period with the wind moving the ball around and then not being able to see it. It's a little difficult and you just have to spend a few days getting used to it.

"He played really well. He served tremendously and he was always on top of the ball but I think my lack of confidence at certain stages helped him a little."

Rafter said his mental approach has toughened since his quarter-final defeat by Dutchman Richard Krajicek in last week's Australian Hardcourt Championships here.

Agassi showed touches of brilliance but folded and dropped his serve three times in the second set. "I'm not too concerned about it," he said.

"I've still got four or five days. Hopefully, I'll just work myself into this tournament."

In the night's other match, the 30-year-old Frenchman Guy Forget beat another American, Todd Martin, in a final set tie-break.

Forget, who has risen to 38 in the rankings after returning from extensive knee surgery last April, beat last year's Australian Open finalist 6-4, 3-6, 7-6.