Tennis: Sampras cruises through as Courier limbers up: World No 1 earns revenge meeting with Wimbledon conqueror in Italian Open semi-finals as Nastase turns back clock

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The Independent Online
ROLLS of thunder frequently accompanied the thud of shots on the courts here at the Italian Open yesterday. Rain did not affect play until early evening and did not prevent Pete Sampras, Goran Ivanisevic, Jim Courier and Ilie Nastase advancing to the semi-finals.

Sampras, the world No 1, was imperious against Guillermo Perez- Roldan, dismissing the Argentinian, 6-0, 6-2, to assure himself of a first meeting with Ivanisevic since losing to the Croat in the Wimbledon semi- finals. Ivanisevic performed with the confidence of a player finally shedding the court-rust of time lost through injuries in defeating Marcello Filippini, 7-6, 6-4, having too much power for the Uruguayan conqueror of Ivan Lendl.

Courier, the defending champion here, and also at the French Open in nine days' time, continued to sharpen his edge with a 6-3, 6-4 win against Sergei Bruguera, of Spain. He now meets Michael Chang, who extended his head-to-head wins against the Russian Andrei Chesnokov to 7-0, with a 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 win in the night match, saving two match points before securing victory on his third after three hours and 37 minutes.

Nastase? The paunchy old rascal defeated the positively corpulent Adriano Panatta, 7-6, in the veterans' event as the organisers of the 50th championships found time and space to honour some of the great characters who have enhanced the tournament.

Even in Nastase's era, when the sport had undergone the transition from shamateurism to professionalism, players still socialised far more than they do nowadays. This does not mean that the current players are completely devoid of friends among their rivals. Though the duel to be No 1 in the world has meant that Courier and Pete Sampras are no longer as close as they were in their early days on the tour, they remain on nodding terms. And Ivanisevic's best friend in the game is Marc Rosset, the Swiss who denied him the chance of a gold medal at the Olympics last year.

'Now the game is more serious, it's true,' Ivanisevic said, having eliminated Rosset in the third round. 'But Marc and I are the same age and we have the same opinions about a lot of things. We can go out to dinner and talk. Some of the other players travel with wives or some other friend. The only time we can talk to them is when we see them in the locker-room, or in the disco, or in the bar.

'It is always tough to play against a friend. You feel different inside. But when you get to the court he is not you friend anymore. He is your enemy, and you just want to beat him.'

Courier spoke of the major adjustments young players have to make on their travels. These can be more fundamental than switching to clay courts from concrete. He recalled his first trip to Europe in 1988. 'Like any American kid, I was happy to be here, but I was very narrow-minded, like most kids are. I gradually opened up and realised that some things are better over here than back home. I started to look at the architecture and to understand that there are different lifestyles. I came over here and enjoyed playing instead of dreading it.'

Monica Seles, the world No 1, will no longer have her computer ranking adjusted while she recovers from being stabbed on a court in Hamburg two weeks ago. 'We felt that awarding Monica her average in Hamburg was the appropriate decision to make under the circumstances,' Gerard Smith, the executive director of the Women's Tennis Association, said yesterday. 'Since the tragic incident occurred, there has been considerable discussion among the players and the board of diirectors. Everyone is sympathetic to Monica's plight, and her health and recovery are of primary concern, but the players are united in their belief that Monica has been given adequate and satisfactory ranking consideration.'

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