Tennis: Korda has a leg to stand on

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The Independent Online
PETR KORDA could never have imagined that he would one day beat the world No 1 on one leg, but that is what happened in an extraordinary semi- final of the dollars 6m Compaq Grand Slam Cup here last night. Korda, hopping around with cramp, defeated Pete Sampras, who also appeared on the point of collapse, at 13-11, in the fifth set after four hours and 31 minutes and 68 games, the longest total in the four years of the tournament.

Sampras, who won dollars 2m as the inaugural champion in 1990, was unable to convert any of five match points. The irony of his defeat is that his 30th ace of the match was also his 1,066th of the year in all competitions, which equalled the world record set by Goran Ivanisevic last year. But the Croat accumulated his in 80 matches, 21 fewer than Sampras.

Korda, who today faces Michael Stich, the defending champion, is already guaranteed his biggest pay cheque of dollars 875,000 as a finalist. He may have thought that his season was finished when Sampras had three match points in a fourth- set tie break, but the tall, lean left-hander from the Czech republic recovered to take the shoot-out, 12-10, and then contrive to hold mind and body together to win the match, 3-6, 7- 6, 3-6, 7-6, 13-11.

Whether Korda will be in a fit state to offer a decent challenge today remains to be seen. 'Maybe I can get up and play some tennis,' he said between sips of a beer. 'Maybe I won't show up. Maybe I'll go skiing.' The Stich Show continued to run yesterday, though Germany's man of the moment startled even the home supporters with a magnificent comeback to defeat Stefan Edberg 2-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.

Stich, the world No 2, has won 31 of 36 matches in his homeland this year, but none as dramatic as this one. After the first two sets most of the crowd were reconciled to seeing their hero fall short of completing an astonishing end-of-season treble by successfully defending the trophy after his triumphs in the ATP Tour Championship and the Davis Cup final.

Two things conspired to alter the course of the semi-final: Stich's timing returned, and Edberg's deteriorated at an alarming rate. By the start of the final set, the Swede was struggling to hit the court with a first serve. 'I let him back into the match a little bit,' Edberg admitted, 'but he really started serving huge.'

It was the first time in their 12 meetings that they had gone into a fifth set, and Stich had sufficient in reserve to show why he dominates the head-to- head series, 8-4.

There was only going to be one winner after Stich broke the Swede's serve in the third game of the final set, and by the finish it was as if the players had swapped minds and bodies midway through the match.

Stich did not create a break point until the opening game of the third set. He then proceeded to squander it, mistiming a second-service return. The German's mood was not improved when he had to squeeze between a couple of television cameras at the side of the court while attempting to retrieve a shot, and he did not endear himself to the spectators by throwing his racket each time Edberg repulsed his attacks.

The breakthrough came in the seventh game, when Stich sent Edberg scurrying to the back of the court in pursuit of a lob, which the Swede could only direct into the net. Edberg then lost the set by double-faulting in the ninth game. Another double fault gave Stich the initiative and the German levelled the match before sweeping to victory.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich) Semi-finals: M Stich (Ger) bt S Edberg (Swe) 2-6 3-6 6-3 6-3 6- 1; P Korda (Cz Rep) bt P Sampras 3-6 7-6 3-6 7- 6 13-11.

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