Sampras finds footing for victory Grass, Reneberg prove slippery in four-setter

June 25, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- Manicured to perfection, the lush green grass on Wimbledon's Centre Court gave three-time defending champion Pete Sampras as much trouble as opponent Richey Reneberg yesterday.

The slippery surface and Reneberg's return of service gave Sampras a scare in the early going, but in the end, he emerged with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory in the famed tournament's opening round.

"After I lost the first set, I told myself that I wasn't going to panic," he said.

But when Reneberg broke him in the third game of the second set to take a 2-1 lead, Sampras' face revealed his distress and he hung his head low during the changeover.

"I was getting a little bit panicked when he broke me there," said Sampras, who did not want to become the first defending men's champion in 29 years to be sent packing before teatime on opening day. "I was a little bit concerned. I was very concerned. But then I broke back and I started to settle down."

Sampras has won 22 straight matches here. Bjorn Borg holds the record with 41 in a row from 1976 to the 1981 final, which he lost to John McEnroe.

Seles returns with a win

Monica Seles returned to Centre Court for the first time since 1992 and came away with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Ann Grossman.

"Playing here today was like the first time," Seles said. "The crowd was warm. They gave me two rounds of applause and it was very special. But I was so nervous. That second game, I could not get even one ball in the court and then my racket fell out of my hand. I was so nervous, I couldn't even feel my hands."

Edberg pumped up

Every big point Stefan Edberg won against Guy Forget was emphasized with a pumping fist. Later, after winning, 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, he was told he looked a bit like Jimmy Connors.

"No, no, no," said Edberg, one of Wimbledon's most decorous players, in mock horror. "But I enjoyed playing today. And I knew that for me it was important to stay on top of things. I just felt good and let it show a little bit."

Edberg, a two-time Wimbledon champion, is retiring at the end of this season and says he wants to make this, his 14th and last Wimbledon, memorable.

"Every match I win here will be a bonus," he said.

Britain's Jeremy Bates, who also has declared this his final Wimbledon, lost to Nicolas Pereira, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

"It's time to go," Bates said. "It's no fun going out and playing against the guys playing against me. When I'm giving up 10 or 12 years, they're a different kind of athlete and I'm getting out of my depth."

Dressed for the occasion

Mary Pierce discarded her low-cut French Open dress that created such a stir and appeared in what she called "an appropriate and classic" number -- all white with a high neck.

"The Paris dress was for Paris," she said. "But that was then and this is now. This is the dress I'll wear until the U.S. Open. I'll have something new there."

Oh, yes, she beat Patty Schnyder, 6-3, 6-2, and moved on to the second round.

This is the way

No. 2 seed Boris Becker gave a demonstration of how every player would like to start at Wimbledon. He crushed Jean-Philippe Fleurian, 6-0, 6-2, 6-3, then spent his post-match interview talking soccer.

"I'm a much bigger fan of soccer than I am of tennis," he said, noting that Germany will play England in the semifinals of the European championships tomorrow. "I have a few tickets for that game -- but Wimbledon is my No. 1 priority. Still, I will watch what I can on television."

Becker, who has said his first childhood dream was to be a soccer star, has many friends on the German team. He said he gave them what tickets he could to yesterday's match, but couldn't take care of all the requests.

Miscellaneous

World No. 1 and defending women's champion Steffi Graf, who had asked for and been denied a delay in her opening match today because of a sore left knee, said yesterday that the knee is on the mend. Graf will play 75th-ranked Ludmila Richterova on Centre Court. . . . American Chanda Rubin, the seventh-seeded woman, withdrew with a wrist injury. . . . German Bernd Karbacher, a French Open semifinalist, was to meet Goran Ivanisevic but withdrew after falling down the stairs at his apartment yesterday morning and spraining his ankle. He was replaced by David Nainkin, whom Ivanisevic beat, 6-2, 6-0, 6-2.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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