Tennis: Sampras succumbs to fatigue

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The Independent Online
A topsy-turvy French Open provided another twist yesterday when an exhausted Pete Sampras, his quest to complete a set of the four Grand Slam titles frustrated, decided to return to Florida to rest for Wimbledon.

In the absence of Sampras in London next week, Thomas Muster will be promoted to No 1 seed for the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club, even though he has never won a Tour match on grass.

Leaving aside the vagaries of the ATP Tour rankings, the defeat here of Muster, the defending champion, by Germany's Michael Stich in the fourth round undoubtedly ignited the championships, and the draining of Sampras by marathon matches gave Yevgeny Kafelnikov the impetus to become the first Russian finalist in the men's singles.

The sixth-seeded Kafelnikov, and Stich, who swept aside the Swiss Marc Rosset, 7-3, 6-4, 6-2, will meet tomorrow to decide the destiny of the title, while the battle-fatigued Sampras endeavours to take his mind off tennis.

"I've pulled out of Queen's," Sampras announced after losing to Kafelnikov in the semi-finals, 7-6, 6-0, 6-2. "I've decided to go home and put the racket up and not see a court - especially a clay court - for a while. I need some rest, mentally and physically, to get geared up to hopefully make it a four-Pete at Wimbledon. Next weekend I'll get back to London, walk through those gates at the All England Club, get those feelings and those good memories, and hopefully come out ahead there.''

The sight of Sampras labouring to counter Kafelnikov's crisp groundstrokes in temperatures touching 100F was almost pitiable after his heroics in outlasting Sergi Bruguera, Todd Martin and Jim Courier. He had already played five hours and seven sets more than Kafelnikov, and it showed.

"That was not Pete like we are used to seeing him on the court," Kafelnikov said. "I think something was happening with him today. Maybe his back was bothering him.''

Sampras did experience the odd twinge, but he emphasised that the troublesome back was not the reason for his discomfort. Having saved two break points en route to the first set tie-break, and then lost the shoot-out, 7-4, after leading 4-2, Sampras "just felt that the balloon popped; everything was feeling very heavy, I just couldn't catch my breath, and I was flat-out tired.''

Kafelnikov would have been enough of a handful for the world champion even if Sampras had been in top condition. He has dropped only one set in six matches, and that was in a tie-break against the Dutchman Richard Krajicek in the quarter-finals.

Technically, the 22-year-old from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, is the first Russian male to advance to a Grand Slam singles final. Alex Metreveli, who lost to the Czech Jan Kodes in the 1973 Wimbledon final, always stressed that he was Georgian even though he represented the Soviet Union.

Stich, whose clay-court preparation was restricted to only two matches following ankle surgery in March, is delighted he decided to enter the tournament. Victory would make the No 15 seed the first German champion since 1937, when Henner Henkel defeated Britain's Bunny Austin.

An ability to adapt his attacking style to provide defensive cover when necessary has been the hallmark of Stich's intelligent progress through the draw.

Last time Stich reached the semi-finals, in 1991, he was defeated by Jim Courier but went on to win the Wimbledon title. "I think I'm a more complete player than I was at that time," he said. "I know I have the ability to change my game, and that's what I did today.''

Even so, he seemed more surprised than anybody that he has advanced so far. "This is something I never would have believed could, or would, happen." he said. "Now I obviously can't say I'll take it round by round, because there's only one more round to play, so I have to try to win this now.'' It ought to be interesting.

n Clare Wood will today try to become the first British women's winner at Beckenham since Ann Jones in 1967. The British No 1 from Sussex, failed to win a match on grass last year but beat the top seed from Germany, Christina Singer 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to reach a final against the sixth seed, Maria Vento of Venezuela.