Tennis: Sampras suffers in concrete terms: Champion's injury worry

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PETE SAMPRAS, who is among the favourites to win the Wimbledon title in July, is due to have a bone scan on his left shin today. The 21-year-old former United States Open champion experiences a recurrence of shin splints whenever he plays for a lengthy period on concrete courts, such as here in Florida last week, when he played six consecutive matches to win the Lipton title.

The victory advanced the world No 2 farther ahead of Stefan Edberg in pursuit of Jim Courier's No 1 ranking, but at a cost. 'I'm going to have the scan so I'll know in my mind it's not a stress fracture,' Sampras said. 'It just flares up every now and then and hurts most when I serve and volley.'

Sampras wore a bandage on his left foot and lower left leg during Sunday's Lipton final, in which he defeated MaliVai Washington, a fellow American, in straight sets. 'It was a medical heat bandage, but it didn't help all that much,' Sampras said. 'The shin today wasn't good. I felt quite a lot of pain.'

He has been told that the unusually high arch of his left foot is the source of the problem. Continual pounding on the type of rubberised hard courts to be found at the United States Open and the Australian Open tends to cause reaction in both shins.

In January, Sampras won the New South Wales Open on hard courts in Sydney on the eve of the Australian Open. His shins were sore when he arrived in Melbourne, though he was able to advance to the semi-finals, where he was defeated by Edberg. The Swede also beat Sampras in the United States Open final last September.

Sampras reached the Wimbledon semi-finals last year, eliminating Michael Stich, the defending champion, in straight sets before losing to Goran Ivanisevic.

'At the Grand Slams you only play every other day, which is not such a problem,' he said. 'I've played for five or six days at the Lipton, which is pretty tough on my shins. I'm going to do nothing but rest for three or four days before going to Asia. If the shins cause me a lot of problems when I get there, I'll think about pulling out.'

Sampras, along with Courier and Andre Agassi, declined to help the United States defend the Davis Cup in Australia this week. 'The way my body is feeling now, it would have been stupid to play Davis Cup this week,' he said. 'I finally took the decision not to play after the Australian Open. Had the dates been the same as last year, I probably would have stayed on and played.

'I have certain goals for my year. The Davis Cup was a lot of fun for me last year, but the decision I made was basically the one I felt was best for my tennis. I think the Davis Cup in Australia is more important and popular than it is in the United States.' This would certainly appear to be the case this week, though the remark is unlikely to impress the United States Tennis Association.