Tennis: Sampras lets slip his `bad' thoughts

Australian open tennis
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Pete Sampras's halo slipped slightly yesterday but there were no mistakes from the world No 1 as he moved a step closer to another Grand Slam at the Australian Open in Melbourne. Derrick Whyte reports.

Pete Sampras continued to shatter his image as a dour do-gooder as he powered his way into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in Melbourne yesterday.

The world No 1 revealed that nothing would give him greater pleasure sometimes than to slap slip-shod officials "across the face''. Sampras' surprise admission comes just days after he said that he whiles away the long hours between matches by spending some of his fortune playing blackjack at a local casino.

"There are times when you see a linesman and think what are they doing on a big point when they let a ball that's clearly a foot out not be called out.

"You feel like going and slapping them in the face to wake them up," said Sampras after his fourth-round victory over Morocco's Hicham Arazi.

But Sampras quickly pointed out that he was not about to suddenly transform himself into another John McEnroe, when he added: "I am just thinking it. I don't do it."

Sampras needed to give himself a slap in the first set against Arazi as he missed two opportunities to take it, then had to save one set-point before a typical ace brought him the tie-break by 11-9.

The 26-year-old gradually wore down the Moroccan and took the next two sets 6-4, 6-4 to remain on course for an 11th Grand Slam crown which would be just one away from Roy Emerson's all-time record.

The match was one of just six that took place yesterday as play was restricted to the centre court which was protected from the long periods of rain that hit Melbourne by its retractable roof.

"It is a little bit different, but I don't mind playing indoors," said Sampras who now meets Slovakian Karol Kucera who beat Australia's Richard Fromberg 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 .

Sampras also said he expects to meet Andre Agassi in the final. The former world No 1, Agassi, plays Spaniard Alberto Berasategui today for a likely quarter-final against ninth seed Marcelo Rios, of Chile, the only seed remaining in the bottom half of the men's draw. Berasategui upset Australian hero and second seed Pat Rafter on Saturday night to free up the bottom half of the draw.

Agassi slid to 122 in the world rankings last year but has been in dazzling form. "Obviously the way Andre has been playing, I think he's the one who's going to get through," Sampras said. "We are not getting any younger - he's 27 and I'm 26 - so he wants to finish his career strong like I do," he said.

Petr Korda, who beat Sampras in the US Open last year, moved closer to a return match in the semi-finals after defeating Frenchman Cedric Pioline in four sets. The Czech player will play No 4 seed, Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman, who beat Zimbabwe's Byron Black in straight sets.

Just two women's matches were played with unseeded Venus Williams winning her fourth-round match against Switzerland's Patty Schnyder 6-4, 6-1. The 17-year-old said that Wimbledon should follow Melbourne's lead and cover one of the courts.

Results, Digest, page 23