Tennis: Sampras made to dig in before continuing advance: The defending champion drops his first set of the tournament as clay-court experts adapt their baseline skills to US Open concrete

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The Independent Online
COMING up at the United States Open is Labor Day, which summarises the way things are, and Laver Day, which marks the 25th anniversary of the great Australian's second Grand Slam and serves as a reminder of how things used to be.

Pete Sampras, who endeavours to follow the Laver creed of success through sportsmanship, had to labour for the first time in defence of his title yesterday. In blustery conditions, the world No 1 dropped his first set of the tournament to Roger Smith, a 30-year-old qualifier from the Bahamas, ranked No 187, playing his first Grand Slam tournament for five years.

The Wimbledon champion also lost his serve in the opening game of the third set, which he required four set points to secure, and finally rid himself of Smith 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, on his fourth match point after two hours and 21 minutes. Sampras now plays Jaime Yzaga, of Peru, who defeated Cedric Pioline, of France, last year's runner-up, in five sets.

Michael Stich, the fourth seed, continued to piece his game back together, advancing to the fourth round with a 7-6, 6-2, 6-1 win against Byron Black, of Zimbabwe. Stich, who won only one match in the year's three previous Grand Slams, has yet to drop a set here. His renewed confidence will be tested next by Yevgeny Kafelnikov, of Russia, who has won four of their five previous matches.

Andrea Gaudenzi, Italy's former world junior champion who defeated Jim Courier in the second round, lost to Joern Renzebrink

6-4, 6-1, 6-3. The German, ranked No 85, was beaten by Britain's Jeremy Bates on two occasions this year: in the second round at Wimbledon and the final in Seoul.

While the championships lacked subtlety in the opening week, a good deal of hustle and bustle gave survivors in the lower half of the men's draw a wonderful opportunity to challenge for the title. Among them are the unseeded Andre Agassi and the sixth-seeded Michael Chang, who meet in the fourth round today.

The contest between the two Americans may prove to be one of the highlights of the tournament. They bring contrasting styles of baseline play to the court, and Chang will hope that the work he has done to improve his serve will test the quality of Agassi's returns. Agassi leads the head-to-head 5-3.

The winner will play either Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champion seeded three, or Thomas Muster, the resilient Austrian 13th seed, both of whom have demonstrated that clay-courters can adapt their baseline skills to the concrete.

One unseeded player, either Germany's Bernd Karbacher or Italy's Gianluca Pozzi, is guaranteed their first appearance in a Grand Slam quarter-final. Karbacher, the beneficiary of Ivan Lendl's back injury in the second round, capitalised by defeating the 15th seed, Marc Rosset. Pozzi, ranked No 131, qualified for the main draw for the fourth time in his career and eliminated Markus Zoecke, the first-round conqueror of Goran Ivanisevic.

Karbacher or Pozzi will face Todd Martin, the ninth seed, or the unseeded Richey Reneberg, who defeated Boris Becker to start the seeds rolling.

Kimiko Date of Japan was the first player to advance to the women's quarter-finals, although not without difficulty. The fifth seed made 73 unforced errors on the way to a 6-2, 6-7, 7-5 win against Leila Meskhi, of Georgia. Date now plays the second seed, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini is also through to the last eight, delayed more by her double faults than competition from the 19-year- old Elena Likhovtseva, of Kazakhstan, winning 6-2, 6-1 in 62 minutes.

Results, Sporting

Digest, page 31