Tennis: Sampras gains from pain

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The Independent Online
Pete Sampras's victory in Paris yesterday means the American is close to equalling a feat set by the Jimmy Connors nearly 20 years ago.

Pete Sampras won his seventh title of the season when he beat the 12th seed, Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the final of the Paris Indoor Open yesterday.

His two hours 11 minutes victory, a dress rehearsal for the Davis Cup final in Gothenburg later this month, means that the 26-year-old American is now virtually sure of matching Jimmy Connors' record of finishing the year on top of the rankings for a fifth consecutive time. Connors managed the feat from 1974 to 1978 while Sampras is currently in his 197th week as world No 1.

The American, who has now won 51 tournaments and 10 Grand Slam singles titles since turning professional in 1988, went to a Paris clinic last night for X-rays and tests for a painful right shoulder and upper arm and he needed painkillers before the final.

But he still powered to his 51st victory from 61 matches this season. Bjorkman, 25, who will rise to a career-best fourth in the rankings today and who has already made sure of being one of the eight players who will compete in the ATP Championships in Hannover from 11 November, had his chances early on as both players struggled to hold their serves.

But Sampras saw off the immediate danger at 30-40 in the third game with a service winner and then saved three more break points two games later with one tremendous smash off a Bjorkman mishit and a series of inch-perfect volleys.

His own chance came in the sixth game when Bjorkman, under pressure from the depth and power of Sampras' groundstrokes, committed a series of unforced errors and once Sampras had nosed 4-2 clear he never looked back.

He pocketed the first set in 35 minutes and looked to be heading for an easy win when he surged 2-0 clear in the second. But Bjorkman battled back to 3-3 and then broke Sampras for a second time when the American hit his second double fault on set point.

Bjorkman, who with 62 victories has won more matches than any player on the Tour this year, grew in confidence and kept his opponent off balance as he began to home in on the lines with blistering passing shots.

Sampras weathered the storm, broke Bjorkman in the fifth game of the third and when the Swede double-faulted on set point he was clearly back in the driving seat.

He surged 2-0 clear in the fourth, snuffed out a tremendous effort by Bjorkman, who had four break points in the third game, by slamming down a service winner for 3-0 and then cruised home to clinch his sixth win in seven meetings with the Swede. Sampras pocketed the pounds 265,000 first prize.

Jimmy Connors reached the final of the over-35 Champions tournament in Tokyo yesterday when he beat Andres Gomez, the 1990 French Open champion, 6-3, 3-6 10-8 in the semi- finals. Connors, 45, and winner of eight Grand Slam titles, will meet Mel Purcell in today's final. His American compatriot beat Bjorn Borg, 6-2, 4-6, 10-8.