Aching, tired Sampras falls in second round

May 31, 1991|By Robin Finn | Robin Finn,New York Times News Service

PARIS -- The court was drenched in bright sunlight, not fog, but Pete Sampras looked like a vessel meandering and eventually marooned without radar.

The defending U.S. Open champion slouched, stumbled, and blundered his way to a 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 loss to Thierry Champion of France in the second round of the French Open.

Sampras, with a serve that had "no snap" and feet that seemed to sprout roots into the clay, later said his dramatic revival from a two-set deficit against Thomas Muster on Tuesday left him with a body that refused to move yesterday.

"He passed very well and I wasn't on my game," said the 19-year-old Californian, whose clay-court game remains in the nascent stages. "I was kind of caught in the middle: I wasn't sure if I should stay back or come on in, because when I did, he either passed or I hit a bad approach. He gave me no room."

The blond and compact Champion, now ranked 76th, learned his way around center court during a halcyon visit to the quarterfinals last year after qualifying to enter the main draw. Sampras, seeded sixth, still isn't comfortable at Roland Garros Stadium and said, somewhat sheepishly, that although he plans to return here every year, he doesn't envision himself a favorite.

"I know I wouldn't be a favorite to win, but you can't count me out," said Sampras, "except for the way I played today, which doesn't support that. I felt sluggish and tired, and he played smart."

What Champion did was keep the ball in play, a strategy Sampras could not seem to master. Time and again, his volleys blooped out of bounds, and whenever Champion pestered him with hard-angled passing shots, he didn't bother chasing them.

"I'm not sad, but I'm very disappointed," said Sampras, who laid yesterday's non-performance to mental and physical apathy rather than the nagging injuries that have left him without a victory since December.

In other matches, top-seeded Stefan Edberg battled a sore hip and won, but eighth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic of Yugoslavia, a player who could use a transfusion from Edberg's reserves of patience, battled a bad attitude and ultimately caved in, 6-1, 6-4, 6-1, to Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands in the second round.

Among the the women, routine prevailed at the top, where Monica Seles, Gabriela Sabatini and Jennifer Capriati advanced in straight sets. But Helena Sukova, seeded 12th, fell to Helen Kelesi of Canada, 4-6, 7-5, 6-0.

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