Tennis: Martin aims to make a name for himself: Sampras' near-perfect dismissal of the reigning champion sets up an intriguing climax to the Australian Open

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The Independent Online
TODD MARTIN, the Mr Who? of tomorrow's Australian Open final, may be relieved to know that Pete Sampras cannot imagine improving upon the 'near perfect' tennis with which he ended Jim Courier's two- year reign as champion, 6-3, 6-4,

6-4 in the semi-finals yesterday.

Then again, Martin has been kidded by Sampras before, on a golf course in Florida. Sampras told the 23-year-old from Illinois that his handicap was 16, received nine strokes, and played the best round of his life to shoot 80.

The stakes are higher tomorrow. Sampras, the world No 1 and Wimbledon and United States Open champion, has an upportunity to become the first man to win three consecutive Grand Slam titles since his hero, Rod Laver, in 1969.

In view of some of the negative responses towards the 22-year-old Californian, it seems appropriate to add that Laver, John McEnroe, and any other of the greats one cares to mention, would have been proud to turn in Sampras's performance yesterday.

Martin also had a spectacular day, advancing to his first Grand Slam final with a 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 win against Stefan Edberg, the runner-up to Courier in the previous two years. Martin's impressive all- round game was particularly strong on the return of serve, which did not help Edberg's cause as the fourth seed began to struggle with his deliveries after making a confident start.

Seeded No 9, Martin has profited in the bottom quarter of the draw which lost Michael Stich and Petr Korda in the opening round, gaining ground without exactly filling the sports pages. He is 6ft 6in and was known as 'the big guy with the beard' until his mother persuaded him recently to shave it off.

A comparatively late developer, Martin chose to go to college before trying his luck on the tour. 'If I hadn't, I don't think I would be playing tennis right now,' he said. 'It takes an awful special person to be able to deal with the suffering and the sacrifices you have to make on the tour.

'As an 18-year-old, I wasn't a good enough player, and I certainly wasn't emotionally prepared to live on my own for 40 weeks out of the year in this setting. I was perfectly comfortable living 40 weeks out of a year on my own at college, with hundreds of friends and team-mates on the college team. But it would have been a disaster for me turn pro before then.'

During his second year on the tour, Martin was taken to five sets by Britain's Danny Sapsford in the second round of the 1991 US Open. The following year, he led Sampras 2-0 in a fifth set before losing their third-round match at Flushing Meadow.

A semi-finalist at London's Queen's Club last June, Martin went on to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals. He lost to Courier after defeating Goran Ivanisevic in the third round, 6-0 in the fifth set, after the Croat had survived a match point against Britain's Chris Bailey a round earlier. Sampras v Martin will be the first all-American men's singles final at the Australian championships since 1982, when the newly naturalised Johan Kriek defeated Steve Denton, and the first ever between American- born players.

Whether it is memorable, or turns out to be as one-sided as Ivan Lendl's straight-sets embarrassment of the ninth-seeded Miloslav Mecir in 1989, depends on how successful the players are in sustaining yesterday's form.

Sampras was untouchable, unrecognisable from the player who hit 17 double-faults while floundering to victory against Magnus Gustaffson in a quarter-final played in Wednesday's 'sauna' conditions.

Courier had not experienced such feelings of helplessness since Edberg 'beat the crap out of me' in the 1991 US Open final. The

counter-puncher boldy resorted to serve-volleying against Sampras in the third set, having grown tired of staying back and taken punishment. 'He didn't make any mistakes,' Courier said. 'At Wimbledon he did make a few mistakes.'

Warned for taking too much time betwen points, Courier smashed a ball at the umpire's chair, for which he was later fined dollars 1,000 ( pounds 600). He also tossed a plastic water bottle on to the court, giving the ball boys the additional chore of drying the splashes with towels.

There will be no celebratory dive into the polluted River Yarra this time. 'Maybe this will help me out for later in the year,' Courier said. 'Maybe I won't have so many chemicals in my body.'

Goran Ivanisevic has been fined dollars 6,000 after an investigation following complaints by television viewers about audible obscenities in Croat during his quarter-final against Jim Courier.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MEN'S FINAL HEAD-TO-HEAD ----------------------------------------------------------------- PETE SAMPRAS (US) v TODD MARTIN (US) (Sampras leads 2-0) Year Venue Surface Round Winner Score 1992 US Open hard 3rd rd Sampras 7-6 2-6 4-6 7-5 6-4 1993 Key Biscayne hard 2nd rd Sampras 6-3 6-4 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photographs omitted)

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