Tennis: Krajicek halts the Sampras revival

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The Independent Online
PETE SAMPRAS might have missed a number of shots, but he certainly hit the nail on the head. Having been restored to world No 1 on Monday night, Sampras said he had rediscovered his rhythm, that his game was "back in sync", and that he felt "pretty dangerous". Prudently, he added: "But tomorrow is the true test."

Richard Krajicek's ears must have been burning, judging by the way the Dutchman ripped through Sampras yesterday, 6-2, 7-6, to reach the semi- finals of the Lipton Championships; the only man from the top 10 to survive to the last four.

When serving and returning as well as he did yesterday, particularly in the opening set, Krajicek is virtually unplayable. Sampras was well aware of that even before losing his fourth consecutive match against the Dutchman, starting with the 1996 Wimbledon semi-finals, when Krajicek went on to win the title. "He seems to have my number," Sampras said. The American has won only two of their six matches (at the Lipton in 1993, and in the Davis Cup in 1994).

After striking in the third game with a breathtaking forehand cross-court passing shot in full stride after Sampras had double-faulted, Krajicek then took advantage of three mistakes by his opponent to break a second time in the fifth game, adding a 137mph ace for good measure. The second set seemed about to follow a similar pattern after Krajicek broke for 2-1 with an array of passing shots and lobs. But Sampras managed to prolong the contest with a winning return off a second serve on his fourth break point in the next game.

Although Krajicek began to lose consistency on his serve, Sampras's errors continued to be punished. The American salvaged the 10th game after double- faulting to 30-40, but ruined a promising start to the tie-break by double-faulting for 4-4 after leading 4-1. Krajicek won the shoot-out, 8-6, on his second match point after an hour and 21 minutes.

Carlos Moya's short reign at No 1 ended after he was defeated by Sebastien Grosjean, a determined Frenchman, ranked No 74, and Alex Corretja was unable to lift the fallen Spanish flag, losing to Sweden's Thomas Enqvist. Marcelo Rios, whose glorious visit to the Lipton last year ended with Chile celebrating its first world No 1, went out with a whimper this time, crashing to the Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty in the fourth round, 6-2, 6-0.

Greg Rusedski, in common with Tim Henman, is left to rue missed opportunities here and is now turning his attention to the Davis Cup tie against the United States at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena next week. Rusedski appeared to be on course for a place in the quarter-finals until his serve let him down during his fourth- round match against Nicolas Kiefer, the German winning, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.

"At least it didn't happen in the Davis Cup," Rusedski said. "That would be a little bit more disappointing. I just have to take the positive."

Henman is in a similar situation, wishing he were still here in Florida competing for world ranking points while reasoning that a brief rest will do no harm before preparing for Birmingham.

The American media has been doing its best to play down the importance of the Davis Cup, suggesting that Britain are as good as through to the second round of the World Group with a home tie against a side lacking Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, both of whom declined selection. Rusedski is not taken in by such talk, pointing out that Todd Martin and Jim Courier, backed by Jan-Michael Gambill and the doubles specialist Alex O'Brien, add up to a formidable squad (with a combined head-to-head lead of 13- 2 against the Britons).

"One guy [Martin] is in the top 10, and another [Courier] is a former No 1," Rusedski said. "I think it's a little bit of games going on. If we play well, I think we have a good chance to win, and we're favoured. It's not going to be an easy tie at all. It's going to be a very difficult match.

"Martin this year has played better than any of the American players so far. Courier and Gambill have probably been the most solid behind him. Agassi really hasn't played that well yet this year, and this is the first week where Sampras seems to be getting back his form a little bit."

Sampras himself could muster little enthusiasm for the chances of Martin and Courier, but did take the opportunity for a gentle dig at Rusedski's adopted nationality.

"They have a tough task taking on two big guys, Tim and Greg. I wish them the best of luck !" he said, adding jokingly: "I want to see the half-Canadian, half-British team win."

Martina Hingis and Steffi Graf stayed on course for a possible meeting in Sunday's women's singles final. Hingis, the world No 1, advanced to the quarter-finals, defeating Marlene Weingartner, a 19-year-old German qualifier, 6-0, 6-2, and Graf, seeded No 7, reached the last eight with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Natasha Zvereva. Graf has won her last 21 matches at the Lipton.

Graf will have to overcome Lindsay Davenport, the world No 2, in the semi-finals. Hingis plays Austria's Barbara Schett, who defeated Anna Kournikova, 6-1, 1-6, 6-1. Venus Williams, the defending champion, plays Jana Novotna after defeating Germany's Anke Huber, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 in a spectacular duel of power hitting.