Tennis: Sampras puts Washington in his place: World No 2 wins Lipton Championship

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The Independent Online
THE storm-ravaged Lipton Championships were concluded in almost perfect weather here yesterday. Pete Sampras accepted a crystal bowl trophy and a winner's cheque for dollars 208,900 (pounds 142,000) and the organisers were grateful for the bonus of a huge sigh of relief.

On the positive side, duelling with the elements for the past 10 days will have ensured that Alan Mills, the All England Club's referee, is ready for Wimbledon. 'It's all down hill now,' he said with a wry smile.

Sampras, the world No 2, overcame his continuing problem with sore shins to defeat MaliVai Washington, 6-3, 6-2, in the all-American final. Washington has won only one of the 12 sets he has played against Sampras in their five matches, and the pattern of yesterday's encounter showed why. Sampras had three break points and converted them; Washington created eight and was denied them all.

To be fair to Washington, he did not have the easiest of weekends. His quarter-final against Patrick McEnroe was not completed until 1.07am on Saturday, and his semi-final against Marcos Ondruska, of South Africa, did not finish until 10.25pm the same day.

Washington, ranked No 18, has been the subject of much discussion among the American tennis fraternity since his omission from the Davis Cup squad due to defend the trophy in Australia this week. He was overlooked in favour of the lower-ranked David Wheaton and Brad Gilbert when Sampras, Jim Courier and Andre Agassi declined to travel

A big performance by Washington here yesterday would not have been the best morale-booster for Tom Gorman, the United States captain, particularly after Mark Woodforde's win against Courier in the fourth round.

Washington had two break points in the opening game, and two more in the third. After that, Sampras grooved his serve and was not in trouble again until the fourth game of the second set. He then survived a minor crisis by producing five big serves to wipe away three break points.

When the sun blessed the women's final on Saturday, all manner of things became airborne over the Centre Court: a buzzard, making its rounds; a pelican, seeing what the fuss was about; a light aircraft, vying with a blimp for advertising space.

All of these were put at risk by balls lofted from the rackets of a determined Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and a desperate Steffi Graf. Sanchez Vicario successfully defending her title, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in a contest which had everything except a potent Graf forehand and the supreme confidence which accompanies it. The Wimbledon champion's form changed dramatically with the weather. Consistently good when it was bad, she suddenly encountered a trough when it was good.

Monica Seles, a resident of Sarasota, 150 miles over on the west coast of the state, may have been intrigued by the turn of events. The world No 1, absent with flu, must have been impressed by her German rival's progress to the final. Graf certainly was. She had dropped only 12 games in five matches, terminating Gabriela Sabatini's superiority over her in Florida with a 6-0, 6-2 victory in the semi-finals; her most emphatic win in 34 matches against the Argentinian.

Graf and Sabatini had waited until the evening of a rain-delayed Friday to finish their match, the German's solid serve and hefty forehand proving decisive as her opponent's topspins and slices drifted aimlessly in the wind. It transpired that Graf had given her best.

In Seles's absence, Graf and Sanchez Vicario were seeded No 1 and No 2 respectively. When they last met, in the final of the Virginia Slims of Florida, at Delray Beach, two weeks ago, Graf had won, 6-4, 6-3, extending her head-to-head lead to 18-3.

The Spaniard had just started working with Sabatini's former coach, Carlos Kirmayr. Last year Sanchez Vicario won the Lipton title in the second month of her association with Mervyn Rose. Though Kirmayr was warned on Saturday for over-enthusiastic support from the front row of the stands, it was not his coaching so much as Graf's errors that made the difference this time.

Too often the German's timing deserted her when she attempted to close long rallies against a tireless retriever. 'My forehand was totally off,' Graf said. Cramp in the fingers of Graf's racket hand midway through the final set was an indication of the nervous tension she was feeling.

After enjoying a brighter week than many people hereabouts, Steffi Graf did not have a nice day.

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