It happened to Jimmy Connors in Rome, to Boris Becker in Monte Carlo, and to Stefan Edberg in the first round here at the French Open, when the Swede was seeded No 1 in 1990. Bruguera also bade adios to Andre Agassi when the Wimbledon champion last made an appearance at a tournament, in the Spaniard's home city almost two months ago.
Sampras, in common with Edberg and Becker, is most vulnerable on clay courts, and when the potency and accuracy of his serve deserts him and his volleys go astray, as they did against Bruguera in the quarter-finals yesterday, the top man in the game can be reduced to hitting and hoping.
As 60 unforced errors indicate, this was not good enough to disabuse an opponent whose baseline expertise has twice brought him success at the Monte Carlo Open, most recently six weeks ago. Bruguera triumphed, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, to become the first Spanish semi-finalist since Jose Higueras 10 years ago. Higueras is here as a coach. His protege, Jim Courier, has won the title for the past two years.
Sampras was not totally devoid of opportunity. He found his range to hinder Bruguera's progress in the opening set, creating two break points for 3-1, and recovered from 1-4 to salvage the second set, the first the Spaniard had dropped in the tournament.
The American was unable to revive himself similarly in the third set, when his concentration lapsed alarmingly - he won only 10 points - and he allowed a couple of debatable line calls to unsettle him in the fourth set on the way out, defeated but still No 1.
While Sampras was not wrong in saying this week that winning the French Open is the biggest challenge of his career, he certainly needs a Grand Slam title from somewhere to add to his 1990 United States Open success and give credibility to his position at the head of the game. Wimbledon would do nicely.
Bruguera will have to wait to see who he plays in the semi-finals. A fascinating duel between Edberg and Andrei Medvedev was rained off last night in the second set.
The 18-year-old Ukrainian took the first set, 6-0, in only 17 minutes, out- classing the former Wimbledon champion, who won seven points. Edberg was also a break down in the second set, but fought back to 5-5.
Courier, who cannot overtake Sampras on the computer even if he adds the French title to the Australian Open he successfully defended in January, meets Richard Krajicek in tomorrow's semi-finals. Krajicek was on court for 43 minutes yesterday, completing the fifth set of a 3-6, 6-3,
3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win against Karel Novacek and is the first Dutch semi- finalist since Tom Okker in 1969.
Though Courier whinged on Tuesday about having to play on consecutive days, he was resting while Krajicek was finishing his third successive five-set match. A shoulder injury denied Krajicek a semi-final against Courier at the 1992 Australian Open.
'I think I have a good chance to beat him,' the 21-year-old Dutchman said. 'If I play my own game I think it is a 50-50 match.'
Steffi Graf will supplant Monica Seles as world No 1 if she defeats her compatriot Anke Huber today for a place in Saturday's final. The 18-year- old Huber, who has still to win a set after five matches against the Wimbledon champion, will be contesting her first Grand Slam semi-final.
It is 21 months since Graf was last at the head of the computer rankings, and her return to the top has been hastened by the stabbing of Seles in Hamburg on 30 April. Graf, who holds the record of 186 consecutive weeks as No 1, reiterated at the start of the championships that the ranking did not mean anything to her.
'The day I turned No 1 it meant a lot to me,' she said. 'I think that is the special feeling. After that you are just trying to get better at what you do, not really what the ranking means. So I don't care what happens.'
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the second seed, goes into the other semi-final with a 6-1 lead in matches against Mary Joe Fernandez. She has defeated the American here twice before, in the semi-finals en route to her triumph against Graf in the 1989 final, and in the quarter-finals in 1991.
Fernandez's one victory against the Spaniard was in the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 1991, and she will need to maintain the spirited form of her amazing recovery against Gabriela Sabatini in the quarter-finals.
MEN'S SINGLES Quarter-finals: R KRAJICEK (Neth) bt K NOVACEK (Cz Rep) 3-6 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4; S BRUGUERA (Sp) bt P SAMPRAS (US) 6-3 4-6 6-1 6-4; A MEDVEDEV (Ukr) leads S EDBERG (Swe) 6-0 5-5 (rain stopped play).
WOMEN'S DOUBLES Quarter-final: A COETZER (SA) and I GORROCHATEGUI (Arg) bt C MARTINEZ and A SANCHEZ VICARIO (Sp) 7-6 3-6 7-5.
MIXED DOUBLES Quarter-final: E MANIOKOVA and A OLHOVSKIY (Rus) bt J HETHERINGTON (Can) and P HAARHUIS (Neth) 6-4 3-6 6-1.
*Seeded players in capitals.
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