Epic match, special victory Ill, exhausted Sampras finally tops Corretja in fifth-set tiebreaker

'He said he did it for Tim'

No. 1 seed to meet Ivanisevic in semifinals

September 06, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- He had played five draining sets on the Stadium Court, creating a four-hour drama in the U.S. Open quarterfinals that left the crowd breathless.

Now here was Pete Sampras, physically ill on the court, his tongue out, his eyes rolling toward heaven asking for help, trying to get through a tiebreaker against a deserving opponent, and against all odds.

"He said he did it for Tim," said Delaina Mulcahy, Sampras' girlfriend, referring to Tim Gullikson, Sampras' former coach who died in May. "He said that Tim was there with him."

What Sampras did was stave off a break point at 6-7 and then find victory on a heartbreaking double fault by little-known Alex Corretja, the 31st-ranked clay-court specialist from Spain.

Sampras had come back from two sets down to force the tiebreaker against Corretja, who, even in defeat, played the match of his life.

Sampras' win -- 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) -- moved him into the semifinals, where tomorrow he will meet Goran Ivanisevic, who sent two-time Open champion Stefan Edberg into retirement with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11-9) victory.

"If I was in the stands, I would feel that I saw one of the greatest matches," said Corretja, who heard chants of 'Alex! Alex! Alex!" as he sat crying into a towel after the match. "Certainly, it was my greatest match -- and my worst."

Sampras seemed barely able to move during the tiebreaker, forced to lean on his racket like a crutch between rallies. He vomited at the back of the court at 1-1, received a time delay warning, but came back to win the next point.

"I could see he was really, really tired at 7-all in the tiebreaker, second serve, and he played an ace, so it means he has something in there," Corretja said. "Maybe this is why he is No. 1 in the world."

Sampras received intravenous fluids after the match and was unable to attend the interview session. Dr. Brian Hainline, a tournament physician, said he was recovering well.

"What we saw at the end of the match was a combination of stomach queasiness, dehydration, and then his body really let out," Hainline said. "We intravenously hydrated him, and he is doing very well."

Paul Annacone, who is Sampras' new coach, said Sampras was fine before he went on the court yesterday, but by the end of the match, his stomach was upset, his back was locking up and his legs felt heavy.

"I'm not really sure there is any word in the dictionary for what we saw out there," Annacone said. "You know he's a pretty special guy, and special people can do special things."

Eighteen months ago at the Australian Open, Sampras learned Gullikson was dying of a brain tumor. It was such an emotional shock that he crumbled there, breaking into tears during a match when someone yelled, "Do it for Tim!"

He won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1995 but has no Grand Slam titles in '96. He said winning the Open would make his year complete, even if he isn't ranked No. 1 at the end of the season.

"Last year, Pete got through a couple Grand Slam victories without Tim on the road, [Gullikson] helping us by phone calls and talking to me," said Annacone. "[Gullikson] was still part of everything, and he is still a part of it. It is just in a spiritual way, looking down on us. It's nice, really, a nice thing."

Yesterday, it was a special thing, because Corretja was challenging Sampras' soul. After a while, it was no longer a battle of strategies or serves or volleys or ground strokes. It was a match to test men's hearts and desires.

And Sampras and Corretja were brilliant. From Sampras, it is expected. From Corretja, it has been seen, but not consistently. Maybe that is about to change.

"I was playing for too much today," he said. "I was imagining beating No. 1, going to the semifinals, a lot of things. If I win this match, I will go maybe to top 15 in the world. That was a goal for me."

Corretja, 22, nearly ousted then-No. 1 seed Andre Agassi here last year, before suffering severe leg cramps and falling in another five-setter.

"This match is going to help me," said Corretja. "Last year, I

raised my game to play Agassi. This time, against Pete, I think I played my game, not above my game, but my game. I was concentrated. Though I am disappointed to lose, I must wake up tomorrow and be happy. I think I played really well."

They both did. Now, every one can breathe again. Until tomorrow, anyway, when it remains to be seen if Sampras can recover enough to take the next step toward his Grand Slam goal.

MEN

Singles, quarterfinals

Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., def. Alex Corretja, Spain, 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7). Goran Ivanisevic (4), Croatia, def. Stefan Edberg, Sweden, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11-9).

Doubles, semifinals

Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis, Netherlands (8), def. Guy Forget, France, and Jakob Hlasek, Switzerland (4), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (10-8); Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, Australia (1), def. Mark Philippoussis and Patrick Rafter, Australia (13), 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-4.

WOMEN

Doubles, semifinals

Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natasha Zvereva, Belarus (2), def. Lori McNeil, Houston, and Gabriela Sabatini, Argentina (6), 6-2, 7-6 (7-5); Jana Novotna, Czech Republic, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain (1), def. Martina Hingis, Switzerland, and Helena Sukova, Czech Republic (4), 6-1, 1-6, 6-1.

Mixed doubles, championship

Lisa Raymond, Wayne, Pa., and Patrick Galbraith, Seattle (3), def. Manon Bollegraf, Netherlands, and Rick Leach, Laguna Beach, Calif. (4), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4).

U.S. Open

Today's featured matches

Women's semifinals: Conchita Martinez (4) vs. Monica Seles (2); Steffi Graf (1) vs. Martina Hingis (16).

2& TV: Chs. 13, 9; 11: 30 a.m.-5 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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