The duel at high noon

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THE timing of the shoot-out - high noon - says it all. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, No 1 and No 2 in the world, duel again here today in the final of the Lipton Championships.

No hype was necessary to sell out the 14,000-capacity stadium well in advance, but Agassi has played his part. After losing to his American rival on a similar rubberised concrete court a week last Sunday in the final at Indian Wells, he told the crowd he had a message for his father Mike, who was about to undergo heart surgery: "Don't worry, Dad - next time I'm going to kick Pete's ass."

Having secured his place in the Lipton final by defeating Magnus Larsson on Friday afternoon, Agassi led the spectators in a chant of "Pete, Pete, Pete" to encourage Sampras to defeat another Swede, Jonas Bjorkman. Sampras did not let them down, recovering from a battering in the opening set to win the night match, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1.

Agassi's other vocalising, obscenities picked up by a television microphone during the Larsson match, cost the Las Vegan a $2,000 (£1,300) fine.

Sampras, whose reign as the No 1 is safe for the moment, win or lose, responds willingly to his natural role as the straight man. He says he and Agassi hope to raise the game to a new level of excitment by developing a rivalry akin to Borg and McEnroe, "like two heavyweights going together".

Sampras leads the head-to-head series 8-6, and has won five out of seven of their meetings since becoming No 1 in 1993. This will be their third meeting this year, Sampras's 7-5, 6-3, 7-5 win in Indian Wells following Agassi's triumph at the Australian Open, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6, 6-4.

Steffi Graf won the women's title for the fourth time, defeating Kimiko Date, the No 7 seed, 6-1, 6-4 in yesterday's final. The $205,000 winners' cheque made Graf only the second woman in the history of the game to win more than $15m in career prize- money (after Martina Navratilova, $20.3m).

The win also elevated the former Wimbledon champion to within 0.6213 of a point of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at the top of the world rankings. Graf has now won all 14 of her matches this year without dropping a set.

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