Breezing by young Safin turns back Sampras' clock to his 1st Open title 'Not ready,' he won 1st Slam at age 19

rain interrupts 2-set comeback by Agassi

U.S. Open

September 08, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- A huge storm rolled over the National Tennis Center yesterday afternoon, but by early evening young Russian Marat Safin suggested it had been little more powerful than No. 1 Pete Sampras, the man he had faced across the net on Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

"I have no chance," said Safin, 18, after the storm had delayed his inevitable fourth-round loss, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to Sampras by two hours and five minutes.

"Pete Sampras showed me how it is to play No. 1 in the world," said Safin. "He was perfect. He is always almost perfect -- for seven years. Even his second serve is over 100 miles per hour."

Sampras was still wondering this morning who his quarterfinal opponent would be because more rain fell last night, postponing all matches in progress.

It was bad timing for Andre Agassi. The No. 8 seed had lost the first two sets of his match and then through a bizarre number of antics that included intentionally bad ball tosses and moonballs finally found his rhythm late in the third set. Play was stopped with No. 9 Karol Kucera leading two sets to one, but down three games to none in the fourth set, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 0-3.

"Whether I play Andre or Kucera, I'm going to be playing one of the two best returners in the game," said Sampras. "But with Andre, the atmosphere and the electricity in this place would be phenomenal. I think when Andre and I play not only do people who follow tennis but people who follow other sports tune into that match because of the matchup."

The match between defending Open champion and No. 3 seed Patrick Rafter and No. 14 Goran Ivanisevic was stopped with Rafter up a set, 6-3, and on serve at 2-3 in the second set. And in the other men's match, No. 14 Jonas Bjorkman was up 6-4, 1-4 on Jan Siemerink.

In women's action, the quarterfinalists for the lower half of the draw were determined when No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport breezed by No. 10 Nathalie Tauziat, 6-1, 6-4; No. 4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat No. 15 Anna Kournikova, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3; No. 5 Venus Williams defeated No. 12 Mary Pierce, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4); and No. 13 Amanda Coetzer upset No. 7 Conchita Martinez, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

Williams won the final six points of the tiebreaker against Pierce, celebrating her win by shimmying to the net.

"I really shouldn't have done the dance, I should have waited until later," said Williams, who will face Sanchez Vicario next. "I planned to win the second set really easy."

At 27, Sampras marveled at "the unbelievable pace" of Safin's serves and the power with which the 18-year-old Russian hammered his shots. And he remembered his own game, and how at 18 he was "pretty bad," as he tried to break into the Top 50.

Even when he turned 19, Sampras said, he wasn't ready to win the U.S. Open. But he did -- and it was his first Grand Slam victory.

Now, he is going for No. 12.

Only one other man, Hall of Famer Roy Emerson, has as many. It is a record no one thought would be matched, much like Roger Maris' 61 homers that Mark McGwire equaled yesterday.

"I don't think what I'm trying to do and going through is anywhere near the same as what McGwire and Sammy Sosa are doing," said Sampras. "They are breaking an American pastime record. They are playing a sport that is obviously much more popular than I am playing -- unfortunately. The true tennis fans know what I am doing and what I am trying to do."

For years, Sampras said, he didn't know if he wanted any tennis records. It seems unthinkable to hear him say that because for so many years it is all he has talked about: About how it is only the Slams that get him excited; about how he hopes someday to match his idols -- Rod Laver, with whom he is tied, and Emerson.

But he says it wasn't until 1992 that he knew what he wanted from the sport.

"I wasn't ready to win a Grand Slam at 19," Sampras said. "I wasn't prepared. I felt my tennis wasn't good enough at that point to win a U.S. Open, that I just had two hot weeks and for about six months after that, I couldn't back it up. But I was fortunate, I had a couple of tough losses that helped me realize what I wanted.

"Really, it took just one. When I lost to [Stefan] Edberg here in '92, that did it for me."

It opened his eyes so wide he could see the heights and he has steadily worked his way up the ladder: five Wimbledon titles, four U.S. Opens and two Australian Opens.

Records are coming in bunches now. The five Wimbledons matched Borg's record. Another U.S. Open title would tie him with Jimmy Connors' record five.

If young Marat Safin felt he had no chance yesterday, it was obviously for good reason. But at the end of the day he was smiling. His future looks bright. Sampras said he has great talent and many have said he could well be the game's next great player.

Safin was asked if he could be as great as Sampras one day if he works hard enough.

"Oh, very tough," said Safin. "Half of Pete Sampras, to be half of Pete Sampras, is enough for me."


Men's singles

Fourth round

Pete Sampras (1) def. Marat Safin, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2

Women's singles

Fourth round

Amanda Coetzer (13) def. Conchita Martinez (7), 6-4, 4-6, 6-2

Venus Williams (5) def. Mary Pierce (12), 6-1, 7-6 (7-4)

Lindsay Davenport (2) def. Nathalie Tauziat (10), 6-1, 6-4

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (4) def. Anna Kournikova (15), 7-6 (7-5), 6-3

118th U.S. Open

When: Through Sunday

Where: National Tennis Center, New York

Today's TV: 11 a.m., USA; 7: 30 p.m., USA

Today's featured matches: Play begins at 11 a.m.

Thomas Johansson, Sweden, vs. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (11), Russia

After 1 p.m.

Patrick Rafter (3) vs. Goran Ivanisevic (14), comp. of susp. match

Jana Novotna (3) vs. Patty Schnyder (11)

Karol Kucera (9) vs. Andre Agassi (8), comp. of susp. match

Jonas Bjorkman (12), Sweden, vs. Jan Siemerink, Netherlands

Play begins at 7:30 p.m.

Martina Hingis (1) vs. Monica Seles (6)

Alex Corretja (7) vs. Carlos Moya (10)

Nathalie Tauziat (10) vs. Lindsay Davenport (2)

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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