Only the unseeded Spaniard Carlos Moya, trounced two weeks ago in Sydney by Tim Henman, can stop Sampras's charge in Melbourne. But "Pistol Pete" is taking nothing for granted in tomorrow's final. "He beat Michael [Chang] pretty handily so he's very confident and he has nothing to lose and it will be a good fight," he said.
Two years ago Sampras played and won a practice tie-break against Moya, who was then ranked in the 300s, at a tennis clinic in Barcelona. "He's come a long way from the tie-break," Sampras said. "He's going to be tough to beat." Even if Sampras defeats the 20-year-old Moya, his own career will not be crowned until he wins the French Open, the one Grand Slam title to have escaped him.
Earlier, Sampras had left Muster gasping in their one-sided semi-final, which the American won in straight sets, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3. Sampras seemed incapable of mistakes as he stormed home in the final set. At one point several members of the packed crowd got to their feet and, arms outstretched, bent double as though in the presence of a tennis god. It was not until Sampras pulled off a near-miracle, hitting a reflex backhand winner around the net post, that a humbled Muster himself bowed down.
"That was complete luck," Sampras said. "I just tried it and got away with it. I couldn't believe it came out the way it did."
Muster did not mince his words. "He is the No 1 player. He's confident and he's the best all-round player. That's it."
To underline the certainty of Sampras's victory, a spectator raised laughter by offering some encouragement to the world No 5 as Muster slumped to 1-4 in the third set. "You can do it, Thomas!" he shouted. Others in the crowd warmed to the theme, earning laughs with "Play left-handed, Pete" and "Come on Pete, get serious".
Sampras admitted afterwards that he could not have played better. Whether he wins or loses the final, Moya has earned a place in the world's top 10. Moya, ranked 25th and with just one singles title to his name at the start of the Melbourne event, will rise to the world No 6 spot if he beats the top seed Sampras, or No 9 if he loses.
Moya's leap caps his rise through the rankings since 1994, when he finished the year ranked No 346. The unseeded Spaniard has claimed two of the game's best players at the Australian Open, the defending champion Boris Becker in a first-round upset and then the second seed Michael Chang in the semi- finals.
Sampras keeps the top ranking even if he is beaten tomorrow, but Becker will drop out of the top 10, having been ranked at No 6. The Croat Goran Ivanisevic, who reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne before losing to Muster, will replace Chang as No 2. while Muster jumps to No 3.
Martina Hingis collected her first winner's trophy at the Australian Open yesterday even before playing her singles final. Hingis contributed her reliable groundstrokes and a solid volley to the attack as she and Natasha Zvereva of Belarus beat Lindsay Davenport and Lisa Raymond of the United States, 6-2, 6-2, in the women's doubles final. The match lasted less than an hour, putting little strain on Hingis on the eve of her singles final against Mary Pierce.
The British pair David Sherwood and James Trotman are through to the final of the boys' doubles in Melbourne. The second seeds beat the South African duo of Nicholas McDonald and Kyle Rudman, 7-5, 7-5, in the semi- finals and now face another pair from South Africa, the unseeded Jaco Vanderwesthuizen and Wesley Whitehouse, for the title. Sherwood, aged 16 from Sheffield, and 17-year-old Trotman, from Ipswich, had beaten the seventh seeds Artem Derepasko and Kirill Ivanov-Smolenski of Russia, 6- 3, 6-2, in the last eight.
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