Sampras winding down after defeat by qualifier

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The Independent Online

Pete Sampras, the winner of a record 13 Grand Slam singles titles, seven of them at Wimbledon, dropped the first hint that his career may be winding down after losing to Fernando Gonzalez, a Chilean qualifier, 7-6, 6-1, in the third round of the Nasdaq-100 Open here last night.

"The years I was No 1," the 30-year-old American said, "I was probably a little bit too consumed with the sport that it's hard to say how really happy I was. In order to stay up there for as long as I did, it took a lot of sacrifice. Those days are over. I've lost enough hair over the years with all the worries and all the stress that I put on myself."

Earlier in the day, Tim Henman overcame a stiff neck and outsmarted his Spanish opponent, Felix Mantilla, 7-5, 6-4, to advance to the last 16. Henman, the fifth seed, next plays Roger Federer, the No 12 seed from Switzerland, whom he has beaten in their previous four matches, including their meeting in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year.

Henman's ricked neck was self-inflicted. "I wasn't looking where I was going when I was leaving the main building to go to the court," he said. "I turned a corner and the racket bag I was carrying over my shoulder jolted my neck when I tried to avoid bumping into a passer-by."

The British No 1's supporters on the Grandstand Court feared the worst when Henman lay flat out near his chair to be treated by Bill Norris, the ATP trainer, during the change-over at 3-2 in the opening set. Both players had made early breaks, and Henman's strategy of luring the Spanish baseliner to the net rather than trying to out-hit him from the back of the court worked more often than not.

Henman made the decisive break to convert his first set point in the 12th game, Mantilla smashing the ball into the net in attempting to return a lob. Mantilla prospered from a Henman double-fault to lead, 2-1, in the second set, but Henman broke back for 4-4. Mantilla, serving to save the match at 4-5, double-faulted on he second match point.

Latin Americans are making their presence felt. The 21-year-old Gonzalez joined a charge led by his Chilean compatriot, Marcelo Rios, who in 1998 became his country's first world No 1 on an unforgettable Sunday afternoon here when he defeated Andre Agassi in the final.

Rios underlined his determination to raise himself above his current position of No 33 in the ATP tournament entry system by eliminating Yevgeny Kafelnikov, of Russia, the third seed, 6-4, 7-6, on Sunday night to advance to the last 16. Rios next plays the ever-popular Alex Corretja, of Spain, for a place in the quarter-finals.

Luis Horna, a Peruvian qualifier, competing in his first Master Series event, found himself across the net from Marat Safin, the sixth seed, on a day when the Russian was in erratic mode. Frustrated by his elementary errors, and irritated by his opponent's supporters in the top tier of the stadium, Safin came within one misdemeanour of being penalised a game.

The Russian's bad vibes ­ he broke a racket at the end of the first set and belted a ball in anger midway through the third ­ had already contributed to the 136-ranked Horna's confidence. Horna broke as Safin served for the match at 6-5, and led 2-0 in a final set tie-break, only to double-fault to 3-5. The Russian recovered and clinched the shoot-out to win, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6.

Argentina is guaranteed a quarter-finalist: the winner of a fourth round contest between Gaston Gaudio and Juan Ignacio Chela.

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