Tennis: Sampras' refresher course

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PETE SAMPRAS, the inaugural winner of the dollars 6m ( pounds 3.7m) Compaq Grand Slam Cup in 1990, advanced to the semi-finals last night, defeating Henri Leconte

7-6, 6-4. Thankfully, before Leconte departed with a cheque for dollars 300,000, the French left-hander had time to open a window and allow light and air to refresh a tournament in danger of being stifled by the power game.

Michael Stich, who plays Sampras today, did not risk contradiction when he described his match against Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands as 'boring'. Sampras and Leconte, by contrast, treated the crowd to an exhibition of skills; exhibition being the operative word when the contest began to drift away from the Frenchman in the third game of the second set.

Leconte milked applause for every spectacular shot, and joined Sampras in measuring the net after the American had served three consecutive lets. Not to be outdone, the net-cord judge joined in the fun by taking a tape measure to reassure the doubting players.

Sampras and Leconte are now level in their head-to-head series, 2-2, the Frenchman having humiliated the American on his debut in last year's Davis Cup final in Lyons and defeated him again in the Paris Open last month.

Leconte, ranked No 61 in the world, looked capable of upsetting Sampras again until the American won seven points in a row to take the first-set tie-break, 7-3.

Stich, in the absence of Boris Becker, who was yesterday elected Germany's sportsman of the year by the readers of Bild, is doing a fine job in holding local interest. The 1991 Wimbledon champion defeated Krajicek, 7-6, 7-5.

As Stich conveyed, it was not a sparkling encounter, but one typical of a match between two hefty servers on a fast court. Stich has now beaten the Dutchman in five of their seven meetings, though this was their first encounter on an indoor carpet court.

The first set of the quarter-final was so equal in terms of serve and counter-serve that there was not a single break point on the way to the tie-break. Krajicek then took the initiative to lead, 2-0, but the German recovered and won the shoot-out, 7-4.

After saving a break point in the fifth game of the second set, Stich gained the advantage, though he was still made to work for a win which guarantees him dollars 450,000 for advancing to the last four of the tournament. Krajicek saved three match points in the 10th game, but was unable to offer further resistance when Stich hit two returns of serve at such a cracking pace that the Dutchman was beaten as he moved towards the net.

Michael Chang likes the story of David and Goliath, for obvious reasons, though the American would acknowledge that David had only one serve and managed to deliver an ace. The long and short of matters in today's opening semi-final is that the 6ft 4in Goran Ivanisevic, requiring only eight more aces to total 1,000 in tournaments for the year, will wind up his left arm and put the 5ft 8in Chang under fire on one of the fastest courts in the game.

They have met once previously, Ivanisevic winning, 7-6, 6-2, in the opening round-robin matches on a slightly slower court at the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt last month. Chang, who has lost all six of his round-robin matches in two visits to the grand prix finale, has enjoyed remarkable success in the Grand Slam Cup. He is the only player to compete in each of the three years the event has been held, and has accumulated dollars 1.9m from 10 matches, including one final and two semi-finals.

Many judges consider that Chang would have won the trophy last year had his resources not been drained by the effort of retrieving a two-set deficit to defeat Ivan Lendl in the semi-finals. As it was, David Wheaton won the final in straight sets to take the dollars 2m first prize.

Chang defeated Andre Agassi in straight sets in the first round on Wednesday, after which the Wimbledon champion had strong comments to make about the pace of the Supreme Court carpet surface. 'You can say I am biased,' the counter-punching Agassi said, 'but I think a surface like this takes away the enjoyment from all the players as well as the public. And I fear for the future of tennis if it keeps going in this direction.'

Ivanisevic, who was defeated by Agassi in the Wimbledon final, has hit 35 aces in his two matches here so far. While agreeing that the court is too fast, he appeared irritated by Agassi's remarks. 'He is the kind of guy who likes to play from the back; I like to play serve and volley,' the Croatian said. 'It is not my fault that I have a lot of aces and he does not. He won Wimbledon, so why is he complaining?'

Chang's lack of physique makes it even more difficult for him to sustain a challenge on the faster surfaces, though some of his physically blessed opponents would dearly love his mental strength.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich) Quarter-finals: M Stich (Ger) bt R Krajicek (Neth) 7-6 7-5; P Sampras (US) bt H Leconte (Fr) 7-6 6-4. Today's semi-finals: M Chang (US) v G Ivanisevic (Croa); Stich v Sampras.