Tuesday, September 03, 2002
Swingin' in the rain: Sampras gets past Rusedski
By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
NEW YORK Pete Sampras unfurled a backhand return winner down the line and let out a yell: Aaaahhhhh! The fans responded, applauding and chanting support.
It was tough to tell who was more pleased to see Sampras hit that type of shot again.
Playing in the tournament that's brought out his best during the past two difficult years, Sampras powered into the fourth round by beating Greg Rusedski 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4 Monday night at a U.S. Open disrupted heavily by rain.
I hung in there, said Sampras, who had 81 winners and broke Rusedski's serve in the match's final game. The crowd was great. It got me going at the end.
Not since 1988, his first season as a pro, had Sampras failed to make it at least to the fourth round at the U.S. Open. He's won the title four times and been the runner-up three others including in 2000 and 2001.
But the current edition of Sampras isn't the one that captured a record 13 Grand Slam titles. He came into the Open with a 20-17 match record this year and hasn't won a title at any event since July 2000.
Now he will play third-seeded Tommy Haas the man who wasn't allowed to wear his muscle shirt for a spot in the quarterfinals.
Because rain wiped out all but less than an hour of play Sunday, and then delayed the start of Monday's action by more than 7 hours, organizers scrambled to fit in as many matches as possible.
The bad news is: We're behind in matches, doing the best to make them up, tournament referee Brian Earley said. We're certainly hopeful to get where we need to be. We know it's a hardship.
The good news for fans at the Open on Monday night: It was a rare chance to pick and choose among all sorts of tennis luminaries taking to the courts even tiny ones at about the same time at a Grand Slam tournament.
Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati both won to move into the quarterfinals, as did No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova, who'll next play Serena Williams. Playing just her fifth tournament since knee surgery, Davenport beat 13th-seeded Silvia Farina Elia of Italy 6-3, 6-1. Third-seeded Capriati overcame more serving problems she has 17 double faults in her last two matches to eliminate fellow American Amy Frazier 6-1, 6-3.
It was hard for me to get going. I really didn't have a lot of time to prepare, Davenport said. I'm so relieved it's over with, but I don't remember going out there too many times with no warmup, not a lot of notice.
Hantuchova got past No. 8 Justine Henin 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (4). That match was stopped Sunday night in the second set right after Hantuchova hurt her ankle and right thumb in a tumble on a rain-slicked court.
Haas finished his third-round victory over Thomas Enqvist 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, in a match halted Sunday after a set. And three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten was placed on Court 10, although not for long: His opponent, Nicolas Massu, quit while trailing 6-1, 5-4, citing right hamstring and groin injuries. That match was interrupted Sunday night after the first set.
So was Sampras-Rusedski, with the American trailing 5-4 but about to serve.
Sampras made the types of mistakes he has been for a while, sometimes following errant shots by rubbing his forehead or shuffling his feet along the baseline.
But he got plenty of help from Rusedski, who was often his own undoing. Most damaging: Rusedski double faulted twice in the first-set tiebreaker.
Still, both players served brilliantly for stretches, each managing to top 130 mph. Sampras finished with 17 aces. Rusedski had 19, but they were eroded in part by 10 double faults.
Sampras lost just five points on his serve during the third set and hit one serve so hard it got lodged in the net's webbing. But he had problems handling the speed and movement that serves generate off the racket of Rusedski, who owns the fastest serve in ATP Tour history at 149 mph.
Sampras bristled a few times at Rusedski's gamesmanship, complaining at least once to the chair umpire. Rusedski, who usually plays quickly, seemed to make a conscious attempt to disrupt Sampras' rhythm between points.
Rusedski plucked his racket strings, yanked up his sagging socks, tugged on his sweat-soaked shirt, even changed rackets for no apparent reason. In sum, he was a human rain delay, as though there weren't enough of the natural kind.
Not surprisingly, Sampras who entered with an 18-0 record in night matches at the Open had the spectators firmly behind him, with nearly the whole crowd chanting, Let's go, Pete! during a fifth-set changeover.
There was so much cheering that at after one early point, the chair umpire asked fans not to yell between serves.
Sampras had break point while leading 3-2 in the fifth set a game marked by call-questioning on serves by both players but wasted it when he sent a second-serve forehand return well long. Sampras doubled over in anguish when he saw the ball float.
He kept it together, though, and two winners off his trademark forehand got him to match point. When Rusedski's forehand went wide, Sampras raised both arms in the air, then pumped his fist, while spectators regaled him: Pete! Pete! Pete!
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