Tennis / Wimbledon '93: Sampras tunes up at Elton's

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HAVING pushed Barbra Streisand off centre stage with his defeat of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras revealed yesterday that he has his own superstar supporter rooting for him at Wimbledon. . .Elton John.

The world No 1, preparing for tomorrow's men's final, has spent time during his stay in London at Elton John's mansion in Windsor hitting tennis balls. Tim Gullikson, Sampras's coach, said that Elton, a fanatic follower of the game who has his own tennis professional, had asked for a knock-up with his favourite player and it had been arranged through the men's tour.

'Pete went to Windsor and had a lot of fun,' said Gullikson, who described Sampras's performance in beating Boris Becker as his finest on grass. 'I think it's the reason he is so sharp right now. They played a lot of rallies and Pete commented that Elton has a great forehand. He likes to relax before going on court by listening to music and Elton is one of his favourites.'

Gullikson believes the British crowds are slow to warm to his man because they cannot appreciate just how good he is. 'He makes the game look so easy that sometimes his shots are lost on them. I don't know what more he has to do to win them over. He has such a classical approach I never tire of seeing him play. He is so talented he has so many options. What I have shown him is to choose the right shot on the right occasion.'

Away from the Centre Court yesterday, Martina Hingis, the 12-year-old from Switzerland, saw her Wimbledon advance come to grief in the semi-final of the girls' competition when she was beaten 6-2, 7-6 by the 18-year-old Italian Rita Grande. The tie-break was decided 13-11 with Hingis finally going down after saving three match points. Her conqueror now meets the top seed, Nancy Feber, of Belgium.

Natalia Zvereva, of Belarus, missed the chance to double up in the doubles when she and Mark Kratzmann were beaten 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the mixed doubles semi-final by Mark Woodforde and Martina Navratilova.

However, Zvereva will be on Centre Court this afternoon when she and Gigi Fernandez, the defending women's doubles champions, will try to stretch their run of victories in Grand Slam tournaments.