Sunday, August 15, 1999

Final recalls heated end of '98 ATP


Sampras gets shot at revenge in rematch

BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

sampras
Pete Sampras gets a rematch against Patrick Rafter.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        MASON — One can still see Pete Sampras parked on the baseline, hands on hips, arguing the final call. Patrick Rafter waiting at the net for a handshake.

        Waiting, waiting ...

        A year has passed but not the memory. Anyone unhappy with the ending of last year's Great American Insurance ATP Championship has been granted a mulligan.

        Frosty relations between Sampras and Rafter, which began with that match-ending controversy, have warmed to a respectful rivalry. Still, when the top-seeded Sampras tries to wrest the ATP crown from second-seeded Rafter at 4 p.m. today, the rematch will be red hot.

        “I know Pete wants to kick my bum pretty badly,” Rafter said.

        Sampras, the world's top-ranked player, has kicked plenty of bums lately. His 21 consecutive match victories — including a 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 beating Saturday of third-seeded Andre Agassi — ties the second-longest streak of his career. His best is 29 straight, from March to May 1994.

THE SKINNY
  Sampras vs. Rafter, 4 p.m.
  • Series:
Sampras leads 8-4
  • Last meeting: Rafter won 6-3, 6-4 in May at the World Team Championship in Dusseldorf, Germany.
  • Fun fact: Sampras is the only top seed to win an ATP Tour event this year.
• TV: 5:30-7 p.m. (ESPN tape delayed).
        Rafter, ranked No.4, is 29-6 since April. He beat second-ranked and fourth-seeded

        Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-2 in 55 minutes Saturday, a day after blitzing two-time ATP champ Michael Chang 6-2, 6-1 in 65 minutes.

        Neither Sampras or Rafter has lost a set all week.

        Rafter's hardcourt heroics this time of year are evident; he has a 35-5 record in the month of August the past three years. Though he trails Sampras 8-4 head to head, he has won the last three.

        Yet Sampras remains the kingpin.

        “It has taken him a few months to hit his stride, but he played inspired at Wimbledon and he certainly hasn't stopped since,” Agassi said. “He's obviously made himself the guy to beat again.”

        Rafter has been serving extremely well, which is the key to beating Sampras. Rafter lost only four points on serve against Chang and only seven against Kafelnikov.

rafter
Patrick Rafter has not lost a set all week.
(Saed Hindash photo)
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        “He has given me problems the last few times, and he's probably the best serve-and-volleyer we have on the tour right now,” Sampras said.”

        Another big server, Richard Krajicek, had similar success against Sampras with a 6-2 mark before falling to him Friday.

        “He doesn't like to play those serve-and-volley guys; that's why he had trouble with Krajicek,” Rafter said. “I've got to serve like I have, volley like I have, and somehow get his serve back.”

        Entering last year's ATP final, Rafter had lost eight consecutive matches to Sampras and hadn't beaten him in five years. But he rallied for a 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 triumph.

        Rafter's serve on match point was called out but overruled by the chair umpire, ending the match. Rafter felt Sampras upstaged him with an extended argument of the call and in disrespectful postmatch comments. (Asked about the differences between Rafter and himself, Sampras quipped, “Ten Grand Slams.”)

        Last month Rafter said the players had a mild feud dating to that incident: “We are out there busting our guts, and he doesn't show a lot of respect at the end of the day. He tries to play down the reason he lost, giving no respect to the other player, and that is what really upsets me about him and the reason I try to (annoy) him as much as I can.”

        But Rafter called Sampras two weeks ago, and the players cleared the air.

        “I lost a tough match here last year and was a little emotional,” Sampras said. “I regretted some of the things I said. I have always respected Pat as a competitor, as a person. He is a stand-up guy.”

        Sampras, who won this event in 1992 and '97 and is 33-8 here (.805) — the best percentage on tour — has won 13 of his past 14 matches here. Rafter has won nine in a row at this tournament.

        Sampras has a career record of 59-17 in tournament finals and has won 16 of his last 19 such matches. He will remain No.1 when rankings are updated Monday.

        This is the 14th time in the last 15 years the ATP final has featured two top-10 players.

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- Final recalls heated end of '98 ATP
Luck, serve lift Sampras
Agassi's end familiar
Rafter cruises 55 past Kafelnikov
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