Tennis: Sampras quick to find his form

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The Independent Online
PETE SAMPRAS needed just an hour to win his first match of the year and advance to the second round of the ATP Tour event in San Jose, California, at the expense of Spain's Galo Blanco.

The world No1 triumphed, 6-4, 6-4, losing only one point on his first serve and only eight on it overall in Tuesday night's match. He fired 11 aces, served only one double-fault and never faced a break point.

"I'm fresh and when I'm fresh I'm dangerous," said the 27-year-old Sampras, who won this event in 1996 and 1997.

Fatigue forced Sampras to skip the Australian Open after he had played in seven tournaments in a row to end 1998 on top of the rankings, the record sixth successive year the American had finished the season ranked first. Sampras's withdrawal from Melbourne was the first Grand Slam event he had missed in seven years.

"I really felt my tennis tonight was going to be up and down because I hadn't played in a while," said Sampras, who lost to Andre Agassi in last year's final. "But it's like riding a bike, you don't forget how to do it. I was a little surprised. I thought I might struggle a bit."

Sampras won four titles last year, including his fifth Wimbledon crown, and is closing on Ivan Lendl's record of 270 weeks overall as the world's leading player. He is beginning his 258th week at the summit of the ATP rankings.

Mark Philippoussis, the third seeded Australian, opened his campaign by outlasting Armenia's Sargis Sargsian, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3.

The plans of the former No 1 Jim Courier to re-enter the top 50 stalled when he was beaten by the Dutchman John Van Lottum on Tuesday, 6-4, 7- 6. Now ranked 68th and aged 28, the American still thinks he has an outside chance of reaching the top again. "That's not what I'm playing for and I realise it would be close to a miracle for it to happen again, but I'm not going to rule it out," he said.

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