Sampras serves up Davis notice U.S. hopes practice form repeats itself vs. Sweden

November 28, 1997|By Phil Jackman | Phil Jackman,SUN STAFF

A couple of months ago, while practicing before the United States took on Australia in the semifinals of the Davis Cup in

Washington, Pete Sampras appeared as if he had left his game at the last tour stop. Once a point was under way against practice partner Jim Courier, Sampras would invariably lose it, as his forehands flew long and the backhands went wide.

Concern found its way among the spectators and event organizers. After all, the United States was taking on the always-tough Aussies with defending U.S. Open champ Patrick Rafter and the world's best doubles team, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde. Disaster surely loomed if Sampras didn't play up to his No. 1 ranking.

"That's just Pete. He practices a little differently than the rest of us," said Michael Chang of his teammate's weak showing.

"Did you check out his serve?" asked Courier. "There were a few I didn't even see, much less hit back."

Sampras allowed that it was a typical practice session for him. He hammered away with his fearsome serve until he felt comfortable with it, figuring the rest of his game wouldfall into place. "It has been a long season, and I'm satisfied with the way I'm hitting my ground strokes," he said with a shrug.

Sampras then went out and polished off his two singles matches with alacrity as the United States romped, 4-1. In the wrapup against Rafter, Sampras didn't lose a point on his serve during one set and surrendered just four points in another. "Devastating," was the way Aussie captain John Newcombe, a guy who whacked a pretty good serve himself, described the show.

Word out of Goteborg, Sweden, where the Americans and the Swedes clash in the 82nd Davis Cup Challenge final beginning )) today, is that Sampras has looked just so-so in practice. Sweden, beware!

Sampras, who is completing his fifth straight year at the top of the world rankings, and Chang, who has just lost the No. 2 spot to Rafter, are joined by Todd Martin and Jonathan Stark. In addition to playing singles, Stark figures to partner Martin in the doubles tomorrow.

Sweden, which finished runner-up to France in last year's Cup, will counter with Jonas Bjorkman (4), Magnus Larsson (25), Thomas Enquist (28) and Nicklas Kulti, Bjorkman's doubles partner. Both squads are the ones utilized by their countries in the semifinals in mid-September.

The United States leads Sweden, 7-2, in Cup ties, but the last time the two met in the challenge, also in Goteborg, the Swedes triumphed, 4-1. They were led by Mats Wilander, who beat Jimmy Connors, and Henrik Sundstrom, who straight-setted John McEnroe opening day before Stefan Edberg and Anders Jarryd took out top guns McEnroe and Peter Fleming in doubles to cinch it.

It will be the 58th final for the United States, which is seeking its 32nd title since the Cup was put in competition in 1900. The team went out in the semis last year after beating Russia, 3-2, in 1995. Sampras had a hand in all three points though the match was played on clay.

Sweden has been in 10 finals, winning five times, mostly in the 1980s when it made the final every year from 1983 through 1989.

American captain Tom Gullikson, who calls his cast a "dream lineup" with the best player in the world and Chang a brilliant performer in Cup play, laments that there's not one great American doubles team to be relied upon as in the days of Fleming and McEnroe. "But I'll take Pete and Todd Martin anytime," he says.

The two, who rarely play together, partnered in the semis against Woodbridge and Woodforde and hammered their way through the first set before experience won out. Sweden doesn't have a pairing that can match the Aussie tandem.

Davis Cup finals

Scheduled matchups for the Davis Cup championship between the United States and Sweden (Americans listed first):

Today: Michael Chang vs. Jonas Bjorkman, Pete Sampras vs. Magnus Larsson

Tomorrow: Todd Martin and Jonathan Stark vs. Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti (doubles teams can be changed up to one hour before the start of the match)Sunday: Chang vs. Larsson, Sampras vs. Bjorkman

TV: (all tape delay) Today: ESPN, 1 p.m.; ESPN2, 4 p.m.; tomorrow: ESPN, 3 p.m.; Sunday: ESPN, 1 p.m.

Pub Date: 11/28/97

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