Tennis: Sampras repairs his faults

Click to follow
PETE SAMPRAS overcame an uncharacteristic attack of the jitters before beating Andre Agassi in straight sets in the semi-finals of the ATP Championships.

The world No 1 took the first set in a tie-break on Saturday and was leading 4-1 in the second before stumbling with three double-faults. But he righted himself to take the match 7-6, 6-4 and book his place in a grudge final against Pat Rafter. Rafter beat the fourth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-2 in the other semi-final.

Sampras now leads Agassi 16-10 in their career outings, having won their three matches this year. The other encounters were in the finals of Wimbledon and Los Angeles this summer. "There's no question he brings out the best in me," said Sampras, who holds a 16-10 advantage in their head-to-head matches. "His ground game is so strong and he hits his shots so heavy."

While there has been much talk about the Sampras-Agassi rivalry it was clear at least on Saturday that Sampras was way beyond Agassi. With his powerful serves, accurate groundstrokes, winning volleys and trademark overhead smashes Sampras was clearly the better player.

The match seemed to turn in Sampras's favour on the final point of the tie-break in the first set. At 7-7, Sampras hit a return to Agassi that popped up off the top of the net. Agassi answered with too big a swing on a backhand cross-court shot which also hit the net-cord, but landed just out of court.

Rafter's victory over the second-ranked Kafelnikov ensured Sampras of the No 1 ranking. The Australian's performance was remarkable in that he did not rely on his normal serve-and-volley game, but rather wore down the Russian with powerful groundstrokes.

"He did put a lot of pressure on me," Kafelnikov said. "I needed to break him, but he served close to 80 percent on his first serve, so I couldn't."

In four matches played this week, Rafter won all 35 games he served and saved the one break point he faced.

Against Kafelnikov he only lost seven points in his nine service games.

n Greg Rusedski's preparations for another attempt on the US Open, where two years ago he was the first British finalist since Fred Perry in the 1930s, have suffered another setback. The British No 2 has been forced to withdraw from his third tournament in succession, next week's RCA Championships in Indianapolis, with a troublesome foot injury.

Cincinnati results,

Digest, page 11