Sampras vs. Other Guys in fight to the end Volkov, Pioline, Masur try for upset

September 11, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- There's a 24-year-old Frenchman whose coach left for Paris Monday, probably thinking his prized pupil wasn't too far behind. There's a 30-year-old Australian who longs for the days of wooden rackets and longer points. There's a 26-year-old Russian who is in the middle of his honeymoon.

And there's a 22-year-old American who simply might be the best tennis player in the world.

That's how today's men's semifinals of the U.S. Open shake out at the National Tennis Center: It's No. 2 seed Pete Sampras and The Other Guys. For Sampras, the other guy will be No. 14 seed Alexander Volkov. In The Other Match, No. 15 seed Cedric Pioline will take on unseeded Wally Masur.

Sampras may have given his opponent extra motivation -- if the $535,000 first prize come Sunday isn't enough -- by saying his quarterfinal victory here last year over Volkov "was interesting, he went four [6-4], tank and tank."

Volkov said: "No I didn't tank. He played very well. If he can remember the matches, [he] just destroyed me because if you serve bad against him, you just go away, just wait and see, then shake his hand. If you have nothing to do against him, I mean, no serve, no return, just forget it."

The way Sampras played in the last two sets of his 6-7, 7-6, 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal victory Wednesday night over No. 7 seed Michael Chang has left little hope for the rest of those in contention.

"That's the best tennis I've played in a very long time," Sampras said of a stretch that included winning 11 straight games after Chang held serve to open the third set.

Chang has a piece of advice for anyone trying to beat Sampras, the reigning Wimbledon champion and 1990 Open champion who will reclaim his No. 1 spot from Jim Courier if he beats Volkov to reach Sunday's final.

"Break his strings, or invite Princess Di over here," Chang said.

And, on top of that, "Pump some iron."

Volkov, a solidly built if mechanical left-hander, certainly won't be worn down the way Chang was. But the spotlight of his first Grand Slam semifinal could be too much for him against a player who seems to be growing more comfortable in it.

Having learned from his match with Sampras last year, Volkov said, "I expect too much at that time. Maybe now I am more experienced, and I can play much better, I hope."

One positive aspect to losing today would be that Volkov, who was married last month, can get away for a real honeymoon. Volkov didn't get off the court until nearly 2 a.m. Thursday after his five-set quarterfinal victory over No. 12 seed Thomas Muster of Austria.

But that was earlier than Pioline got off the court after his 6-3, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 victory over No. 8 seed Andrei Medvedev Thursday night -- about 18 hours earlier. "I think it is not fair because Sampras and Volkov played yesterday," said Pioline, the first Frenchman to reach the Open semis in 61 years and whose coach returned to France earlier in the week. "Now they get two days off, and I only have one."

While the Sampras-Volkov match does not figure to be close, or interesting for that matter, the match between Pioline and Masur might evoke memories of what this tournament used to be about: tennis. Both seem to have more shots than the robo-players who dominate these days.

"He can play everything," Medvedev said of Pioline, who totally confused Courier in their fourth-round match.

"He has good serves. He can play from the baseline as well as a volley.He likes the guys who don't play with a lot of spin, and I don't play with lots of spin."

Masur may not be able to adjust his game as well as Pioline has, but the only unseeded player left showed the ability to mix things up during his 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 quarterfinal victory over Magnus Larsson of Sweden.

"I have beaten a lot of good players over five sets," Masur said. "Admittedly most of the time it's been on grass, but I have respect for Pioline. But I am ranked 23, and in the men's game, there is quite a lot of parity between the top 10 and the top 30. Look, I am not in awe of anyone."

Sampras is far superior to The Other Guys, but this is a tournament that already has seen some strange things. Ask Andre Agassi, a first-round upset victim. Or two-time defending champion Stefan Edberg, who went out in the second. Or Courier.

As Medvedev said late Thursday night, "You have so many sensations already, and you never know what's going to happen the next matches."

* In yesterday's men's doubles final, No 12 seed Americans Ken Flach and Rick Leach came from a set down to defeat unseeded Martin Damm and Karel Novacek of the Czech Republic, 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 6-2. It was the second Open doubles title for Flach, who won eight years ago with former longtime partner Robert Seguso.

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