Hewitt prepared for demanding baptism

Australian teenager plays first Grand Slam semi-final under no illusion of challenge presented by Sampras

Lleyton Hewitt is 19, the age at which Pete Sampras won the first of his 13 Grand Slam titles here at the United States Open in 1990. Hewitt has won one of his four matches against the great American, and that was in two sets on grass in the final of the Stella Artois Championships at London's Queen's Club a week before Wimbledon.

Lleyton Hewitt is 19, the age at which Pete Sampras won the first of his 13 Grand Slam titles here at the United States Open in 1990. Hewitt has won one of his four matches against the great American, and that was in two sets on grass in the final of the Stella Artois Championships at London's Queen's Club a week before Wimbledon.

Their next meeting will be tomorrow in the Arthur Ashe Stadium when Hewitt plays his first Grand Slam semi-final. While encouraged by his success at Queen's by 6-4, 6-4, the livewire Australian is wise enough not to get carried away. "It's a totally different tournament, on a totally different surface, it's a Grand Slam, and Pete can lift his game at any moment," he said.

Richard Krajicek knows that better than Hewitt. The Dutchman is the only player to have beaten Sampras at Wimbledon in the past eight years - and on Wednesday night he became the latest to flounder in the slipstream of Sampras' overdrive.

In common with Pat Rafter in the Wimbledon final two months ago, Krajicek was in a position to take a two sets to love lead against Sampras by winning a second-set tie-break in the quarter-finals here. Unlike Rafter, who led 4-1 and double faulted at 4-2, Krajicek did not even have time for errors, so swift and emphatic was Sampras's response when trailing, 2-6. "I don't think I can blame myself for doing anything really wrong in the tie-break," Krajicek said, dusting himself off after Sampras had defeated him 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2. "I think he just did a good job by himself - two mishits, great backhand, great pickup, a good serve; just too good."

What disappointed Krajicek was the way his game disintegrated after the tie-break. "I dropped my serve basically straight away. Then the fourth set was a disaster. That was a bad performance, especially the last couple of games."

Sampras did not minimise the peril his game had come through. "Richard was outplaying me," he said. "I thought I was going to be down two sets to love. The way he was playing, I was struggling a little bit, it was going to be a tough battle for me to come back. I thought I was gone. The whole match changed within a couple of minutes."

Although Sampras described the similarity to his escape against Rafter as a coincidence, it is uncanny how often he prevails in matches where only a few key points separate him from his opponents. It is not a coincidence that he has won 13 of his 15 Grand Slam finals.

"In a match like tonight, you're fortunate," he said. "My will was there and I was fighting. My will is always there, especially in a big match. I was prepared for a little luck."

Marat Safin also reached his first Grand Slam semi-final, the 20-year-old Russian defeating Germany's Nicolas Kiefer 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3. Kiefer led 5-2 in the opening set and 5-3 in the third. Safin now plays either the American Todd Martin or Sweden's Thomas Johansson.

Serena Williams, whose defence of the women's singles title ended with a 6-4, 6-2 defeat by her American compatriot Lindsay Davenport in the quarter-finals on Wednesday night, yesterday had to forfeit the doubles title she held with her sister, Venus, because of an injury to the joint of her left big toe.

Rated 75 per cent certain to be fit to partner Venus in the Sydney Olympics, Serena may take longer to overcome the affects of the defeat by Davenport, a player she had beaten in their previous five matches.

Davenport, the 1998 champion, was as accurate as Williams was erratic with her powerful shots, the only similarity between them being their determined expressions throughout the match.

Williams received a warning after breaking a racket, and Davenport told the umpire she would give her $1,000 (£690) if she checked a ball mark on the court and was still able to tell her that a line call against her was correct. The offer was refused.

Davenport said she and Martina Hingis had talked about stopping the Williams sisters making the final a family affair. "It wasn't a serious talk," Davenport said. "We always joke about things like that." In today's semi-finals, Davenport plays the unseeded Elena Dementieva of Russia, and Hingis meets Venus Williams.

Serena did not see the funny side of the story. "I'm sure a lot of people never want to see an all-Williams final, because not everyone really likes us," she said. "It's going to happen in the future inevitably. Nobody's going to be able to stop it." Anxious not to sound paranoid, she added: "Not everyone can like you. Not everyone likes Michael Jordan. It's just part of life."

* Britain's best hope of progress when they return to the Davis Cup Euro/African Zone in April next year would be a home tie against Portugal. That is dependent on that country defeating South Africa at home at the end of this month and overcoming Ukraine in the first round next February, when Britain, who are seeded, have a bye. Having last played Portugal on a clay court in Oporto in 1994 - a 1-4 defeat - Britain are due to meet them at home. Should either Ukraine or South qualify for the second round, it would be Britain's turn to travel.

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