Tennis: Sampras hits back to reach the semi-finals

Beaten by Boris Becker on Thursday, the world No 1 from the United States, Pete Sampras, bounced back here yesterday with the 500th singles victory of his career, beating Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-4 to clinch a semi-final place at the ATP Tour World Championship.

In today's semi-finals, Sampras will face Croatia's Goran Ivanisevic, the world No 4, in a repeat of the 1994 Wimbledon final. Becker, who was 29 yesterday, meets theWimbledon champion, Richard Krajicek. The Dutchman had to work hard for his 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 victory over the Austrian Thomas Muster in the final match of the round-robin stage. Becker's last match proved academic and he lost it to Sweden's Thomas Enqvist 6-3, 7-6.

Sampras is now fourth among active players in the table of number of matches won. Becker has 664, Mats Wilander 571 and Muster 539. Stefan Edberg is the leader on 806, but he is retiring at the end of the year.

"The loss yesterday was obviously disappointing. But today was a new day and I thought I played very well," Sampras said.

Sampras, like Becker seeking a record third title in the season-ending championship that brings together the top eight players in the world, broke Kafelnikov in the very first game to set the tone.

The early break allowed the American to cruise through the first set, although he survived three break points in the sixth game.

The second followed a similar pattern, with Sampras gaining a break for a 2-1 lead. But Kafelnikov finally rose to the occasion when he hit a superb backhand winner to break back and even at 4-4.

The Russian's rally did not last long, however. He saved four break points in the next game, but hit a backhand long to drop his serve.

Serving for the match, Sampras double-faulted to face two break points. A service winner and an ace got him out of trouble, a smash gave him match point and the American converted it with a soft, slice volley.

"I wanted to end it. I definitely wanted to win in straight sets, '' Sampras said. "It's not easy to play after losing such a tough match like yesterday. It was mentally draining. But I got up, put Boris behind me and I got off to a great start in today's match."

"I feel I played a great match but he is the No 1 and he proved it at crucial moments," Kafelnikov said.