Sampras opens up against Chang

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The Independent Online
Tennis

Pete Sampras saved his Grand Slam season by beating his long-time rival Michael Chang in straight sets to retain the United States Open title at Flushing Meadow.

Sampras, who nearly collapsed on court during a fifth-set tie-breaker in the quarter-finals, was at the top of his game to claim a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 win for his fourth Open crown and eighth Grand Slam championship. The win extended his streak to four successive seasons with at least one Grand Slam title.

Sampras, the top seed, also retained his world No 1 status in fighting off the second-seeded Chang, who would have leapfrogged him in the rankings had he won. "It definitely saved my year," said Sampras, whose match was delayed two hours by rain that hit the stadium moments after Steffi Graf had beaten Monica Seles to retain her title in a rematch of last year's women's final.

These were the last finals to be played on Louis Armstrong Stadium Court. Next year, a 23,500-seat stadium will be the centrepiece of a revamped complex.

Sampras's powerhouse serve carried him past Chang but his groundstrokes also had their familiar zing, unlike the form he showed in his struggle against the unseeded Spaniard Alex Corretja in the quarters.

"I played some good matches and I played some bad matches. I got through the Corretja match but I never thought I'd be a winner," Sampras said.

Chang and Sampras first played each other 17 years ago as schoolboys in San Diego. Chang dominated their series as juniors, but now that they are professionals Sampras has taken charge. Sampras, 25, had his serve broken only once by Chang as he beat him for the ninth time in their last 10 meetings to extend his lead in their personal series to 11-7.

"I think the best part of Pete's game tonight was his serve," Chang said. "I've played Pete so many times, I'm used to it. You just go out there and try to stay positive. It was one of those tough days."

"I played my best of the tournament against Michael," Sampras said. "It was one of my best matches I've played in my career."

Graf blocked out all her distractions and played one of her most dominant matches to claim another Grand Slam crown. The German, who had struggled to find her game and maintain her focus during the fortnight, put it all together to beat Seles 7-5, 6-4 and move one step closer to the undisputed title of all-time greatest women's player.

"I felt so nervous before the match and I felt like I had an upset stomach," admitted 27-year-old Graf after successfully defending her title in her 29th appearance in a Grand Slam final. The trial of her father, Peter Graf, began during the tournament and he faces up to 10 years in prison for tax offences.

The Open victory was Graf's fifth and raised her Grand Slam total to 21 - three titles shy of the Australian Margaret Smith Court's total of 24, which includes 11 Australian Open crowns.

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