Conspiring elements fail to stop Sampras

May 29, 1991|By Robin Finn | Robin Finn,New York Times

PARIS -- There he was, center stage at the French Open for the first time in his career, and Pete Sampras was feeling nothing but disenchantment. He didn't like his draw, which paired him against a player who charges around clay courts like a bulldozer.

He didn't like the surface, which retards his turbo-driven serves and volleys. He didn't like his grip or the tension in his racket, three of which he broke trying to fight his way out of a predicament he especially disliked, a two-set deficit that appeared to leave him at the questionable mercy of Austria's Thomas Muster.

But Sampras, the defending U.S. Open champion whose most impressive memory of Paris had been a 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 thrashing from Michael Chang in 1989, set a stirring precedent for himself yesterday afternoon by crafting a three-set comeback that surprised both Muster and himself.

Sampras piled up 17 aces and repaired a 4-1 fifth-set deficit to earn a 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4 victory.

"I base this whole year and the rest of my career on doing really well in the grand slams," said Sampras, seeded sixth here, "and that has something to do with the way I played today, with fighting to the last point. I don't think I was embarrassing myself after the first two sets, and come the fourth and fifth sets, I wasn't really thinking about much of anything, I was just trying to get through it."

Sampras' fellow Grand Slam titleholders, Wimbledon's Stefan Edberg and the Australian Open's Boris Becker, both of whom lost in the first round here last year, had far simpler and briefer outings yesterday than the 19-year-old American did.

Edberg eased past Bart Wuyts of Belgium, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, and Becker, sprouting a 10-day growth of beard he attributed to laziness rather than fashion sense, defeated Jordi Arrese of Spain, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2.

Three-time French Open champion Mats Wilander, currently moonlighting in a rock band, will have to hold his musical career in abeyance a while longer after his straight-set defeat of Mexican qualifier Leonardo Lavalle. Jim Courier advanced in straight sets, Aaron Krickstein survived a five-set test from Belgium's Eduardo Masso, but another American, David Wheaton, was beaten in a first-round, five-set match for the second consecutive year. Wheaton was eliminated, 6-2, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, by Horst Skoff of Austria.

Among the highly seeded women, defending champion Monica Seles, 1989 champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and Gabriela Sabatini all advanced in straight sets. But Zina Garrison, seeded eighth, proved a sorry exception to that trend.

Garrison hadn't planned to play the French Open and against Japan's Naoko Sawamatzu she suddenly began to look as if she'd forgotten she'd changed those plans. Garrison was up, 4-1, in the first set but self-destructed thereafter, losing 6-4, 6-0 to the 35th-ranked Sawamatzu.

The defeat so daunted Garrison that she hustled directly from the court to a side street still wearing her tennis attire, and bypassed both her obligatory news conference and her shower. She later said she wasn't really present on the tennis court, either.

"Mentally I just wasn't there," Garrison explained. "I kept thinking about everyone telling me not to play the French Open, and I was wondering why I was there. I just couldn't get it out of my head."

Sampras didn't think highly of his chances or his first-round draw here either, which pitted him against a clay-court aficionado who was a semifinalist in this tournament last year.

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