Agassi dominates showdown with Sampras

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The Independent Online

Pete Sampras is not ready just yet to reclaim the No 1 ranking from Andre Agassi.

Pete Sampras is not ready just yet to reclaim the No 1 ranking from Andre Agassi.

Agassi dominated the showdown at the ATP Tour World Championship in Hanover, beating the fellow American 6-2, 6-2 in one hour.

Sampras was clearly rusty after playing virtually no tennis in the last three months. This was only his third match after hip and back injuries, but Sampras looked for no excuses.

"I was a touch rusty, but it had a lot to do with Andre," Sampras said. "It's not an excuse, he clearly outplayed me."

"He returned incredibly, he hardly missed a shot," Sampras said.

Agassi blasted sizzling returns and accurate passing shots and had only six unforced errors. Sampras had 29.

"I am disappointed the way it went today, but I'm not discouraged," Sampras said. "I just ran into Andre who is playing about as well as he's played against me in quite a while."

Agassi, who replaced Sampras as the top-ranked player this year, felt Sampras' rustiness had a lot to do with the result.

"On my best day I couldn't beat Pete 2 and 2 if he's playing what he's capable of. I could have everything go well for me and I am not going to beat him 2 and 2," he said.

Sampras covered the net well at the start of the match and hit several spectacular volley winners. Agassi had to save break points in his first two service games.

But Agassi survived and Sampras was undone by two double-faults as he dropped his serve in the fifth game, putting Agassi up for good.

"It helped to survive a few break points and to start getting a little bit more confidence," Agassi said.

From then on, Agassi dominated as Sampras struggled with his first serve, normally his biggest weapon.

"He really returned my serve unbelievably well," Sampras said. "He was forcing me to work much harder."

Agassi agreed. "I was definitely picking up his serve. He had to force the action more."

While Sampras has struggled with injuries, Agassi has been enjoying the best season of his career. He won the French Open, lost in the Wimbledon final to Sampras and then won the US Open.

All these results have assured Agassi of finishing the year as No 1, a distinction Sampras has held for the last six years. Sampras has dropped to No 5.

Agassi, who had lost his three previous matches to Sampras and trails 16-11 in career meetings, is now 2-0 in the round-robin tournament. Sampras is 1-1, still with a chance of advancing to the semi-finals.

And Agassi thought Sampras would make it. "The guy can improve like nobody."

Agassi, whose girlfriend Steffi Graf, the retired German star, watched his match against Sampras, would like to finish the year on a winning note. He captured the ATP championship in its first edition in Germany in 1990 and now has the chance to win the last tournament to be held on German soil.

The elite tournament that brings together the top eight players in the world will be staged in Lisbon, Portugal next year.

Under the round-robin format of the tournament with two four-player groups, Agassi and Sampras are both in the Red Group. The two top finishers in each group advance to the semi-finals.

Sampras is making his 10th straight appearance in the $3.6 million event, which he has won four times.

Fourth-ranked Thomas Enqvist, riding a hot streak in the indoor season, beat No 6 Nicolas Kiefer 6-4, 7-5.

Enqvist could have ended the match earlier. He served for the match at 5-4 but dropped his serve. Kiefer, who had not played for four weeks because of an ankle injury, failed to keep the momentum and dropped his own serve in the very next game to disappoint the home crowd.

In a White Group match, Enqvist blasted a service winner on his first match point. The Swede surged to a career high No 4 in the world after winning the Stockholm Open two weeks ago. He also captured the Eurocard Open in Stuttgart last month.

"I've been playing really well the last month and I have high expectations of myself. I feel really confident out there," Enqvist said.

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