Tennis: Sampras' service struggle

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The Independent Online
Pete Sampras's image as a boring serving machine took something of a knock yesterday when the Wimbledon champion double-faulted 14 times on the way to the fourth round of the United States Open.

Having managed not to drop a set before meeting the 18-year-old Australian Mark Philippoussis, Sampras struggled through, 6-7, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3, after nearly three hours. The second seed lost the tie-break, 7-5, and served himself into trouble in the third set after leading 4-0 and having points for 5-0 and 5-1. Sampras double-faulted twice from 0-40 in the fifth game and three times from 0-40 in the seventh.

As their names suggest, both players are of Greek parentage, though Sampras was inclined to take the notion of bearing gifts a bit far. He did help himself, however, by delivering 27 aces, three of them in the concluding game. He now plays his American compatriot, Todd Martin, the No 15 seed.

Michael Stich required only 73 minutes to secure a place in the last 16. The eighth seed, who was runner-up to Andre Agassi last year, dismissed Australia's Scott Draper, 6-3, 6-0, 6-3.

Agassi, who is among those scheduled to work on Labor Day today, knows better than to take matches for granted even though not one seeded player stands between the defending champion and a place in the semi-finals.

The latest to fall was Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who ended Agassi's prospects of completing a set of Grand Slam titles by defeating the Las Vegan in the quarter-finals of the French Open in June. The listless Russian seventh seed was eliminated in the third round by Florida's Vince Spadea, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Spadea, ranked No 80, now meets the Czech Petr Korda, No 39, who was the runner-up to Jim Courier at the 1992 French Open but has achieved little of note since winning the Grand Slam Cup in 1993. Agassi, the world No 1, plays a compatriot, Jared Palmer, No 75.

Martina Hingis and Chanda Rubin, two of the players who represent the future of the women's game, followed each other on to the Stadium Court yesterday and failed to make the slightest impression on their elders.

Losing in straight sets to Gabriela Sabatini and Steffi Graf in the fourth round would seem par for the course, but the manner of the 14-year-old Hingis's defeat by Sabatini and the 19-year-old Rubin's by Graf caused disappointment.

Their error-strewn performances were symptomatic of the current state of the WTA Tour. Rubin is ranked No 16 in the world and would have been seeded but for the fact that Monica Seles has returned to the game sharing the No 1 ranking with Graf. Hingis is ranked No 18 and rising.

Sabatini may have had a comparatively lean time at the major championships, but the 25-year-old Argentinian generated too much power for Hingis, who contributed 41 unforced errors in losing 6-2, 6-4.

So ended the Swiss prodigy's first year at the Grand Slams. She will mark her 15th birthday on the last day of the month, and can reflect upon a year on the Tour which has brought her victories against three top ten players, Jana Novotna, Anke Huber and Magdalena Maleeva, and harsh lessons from Graf, Conchita Martinez, Lindsay Daveport, Mary Pierce and Sabatini.

Rubin's double-faults helped to make it an easy day for Graf, who coasted into the quarter-finals, 6-2, 6-2, after 53 minutes.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 21