No Italian test for injured Sampras

Pete Sampras has withdrawn from next week's Italian Open in Rome, where he was due to start the clay court season in preparation for the French Open, the only Grand Slam singles title missing from his collection.

A thigh injury sustained in last month's Davis Cup match against the Czech Republic, in which Sampras won a deciding fifth rubber to put the United States into a semi-final against Spain in Santander in July, prevented him from playing in the recent Monte Carlo Open and has not healed in time for Rome, Europe's second tournament in the ATP Tour Masters Series.

"Unfortunately I'm not 100 per cent fit," Sampras said yesterday during an ATP Tour media conference call from Los Angeles. "I've been on the court, but only hitting balls. I haven't been doing much movement and I haven't been able to play sets."

Sampras hopes to be ready for the Masters Series event in Hamburg on 15 May before tuning up for Paris at the World Team Cup in Düsseldorf.

Sampras was asked if he was tempted to forego the clay court season and concentrate on being fit for Wimbledon on June 26. "No," he replied. "I always planned playing on the dirt and hopefully doing well at the French." He is currently fourth in the ATP Champions Race, thanks to his win in the Ericsson Open in the Masters Series event at Key Biscayne, Florida, on 2 April.

The encouraging news for organisers of the Italian Open is that both Andre Agassi and Pat Rafter have recovered from injuries and intend to play.

Martina Hingis, playing her first match in a month, swept past Sylvia Plaschke in straight sets yesterday to roll into the quarter-finals of the Betty Barclay WTA tournament. Hingis beat the Austrian 6-4, 6-1. Anna Kournikova cruised past Anna Smashnova of Israel 6-3, 6-2.

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