Tennis: Sampras sparkles

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The Independent Online
IN THE absence of another Boris Becker show, Germany has been granted the nearest thing to a dream final of the dollars 2.75m ( pounds 1.85m) ATP Tour Championship: Pete Sampras, the world No 1, versus Michael Stich, who is rapidly moving out of Becker's shadow and becoming a national hero in his own right.

Victory today would take Stich ahead of Jim Courier as the world No 2 (Becker is out of the top 10). But he may have to play the best tennis of his life to accomplish it, because Sampras looks a class above everybody.

The American was in spectacular form in yesterday's semi-finals, requiring only 51 minutes to despatch the Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev, 6-3,

6-0. Stich had to battle for almost every point to defeat Goran Ivanisevic, 7-6, 7-6.

Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, won the first-set tie- break 7-2, but the Croatian left- hander saved five match-points, three with aces, before losing the second shoot-out, 12-10.

Sampras timed everything to perfection, to the extent of delivering his 1,000th ace of the year on match point. 'I was in a zone,' he said. The 22-year-old Wimbledon and United States Open champion began with four aces (the first timed at 124mph), finished with two and hit three in between to bring his total for the week to 43.

He also conjured a winner off his frame from behind his back in response to a net-cord on game-point to lead 4-1 in the first set. 'When I hit that I knew it was my day,' he said.

Sampras conceded only seven points on his serve - four of them double-faults. In the second game of the second set, he hit a 128mph serve for 40-0 then two double-faults, at which point a bemused Medvedev returned a second serve over the baseline to go 0-2 down.

The 19-year-old from Kiev had ridden his luck all week to become the first teenager to reach the last four since Becker in 1986. It ran out yesterday the moment Sampras stepped on the court.

'I don't think even if I played my best match I could have won today,' Medvedev said. 'Pete was unbelievable. His serve may be his biggest weapon, but he is strong all round. He is simply the best.'

The world No 6 prefers to construct points from the baseline on the slower red clay, and was simply no match for Sampras on the even-paced carpet at the Festhalle.