Sampras sheepish winner

Up a set, Philippoussis defaults with injury

July 03, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- Pete Sampras was going down.

He was getting served right out of Wimbledon yesterday by Mark Philippoussis, a 6-foot-4 Australian nicknamed "The Scud."

Philippoussis was rocketing serve after serve past Sampras, winning the first set 6-4 and on serve at 1-2 in the second, when, suddenly, a knee injury put him down and took him out of Wimbledon.

Philippoussis retired and hobbled to the locker room, while Sampras staggered into today's men's semifinals.

It was not the way Sampras pictured getting to Wimbledon's final weekend.

But he's there. And so are three others who remain in this captivating title chase.

In today's semifinals, No. 1 Sampras will meet British hope and No. 6 Tim Henman, who outlasted France's Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

And No. 4 Andre Agassi, in the midst of a career revival, will face No. 2 Patrick Rafter of Australia.

Agassi defeated Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, while Rafter won a bruising encounter with No. 8 Todd Martin, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3).

But it was

Sampras against Philippoussis that added yet another strange twist to a Wimbledon in which stormy weather finally gave way to bright, blue skies.

Sampras, who normally owns this tournament and Centre Court, looked like he was about to give it away, uncorking three double faults to lose the opening game. And Philippoussis was unloading 130-mph serves, threatening to fulfill all expectations that have been heaped on him over the years.

"The way he was playing, he was going to be tough to beat," Sampras said.

But for Philippoussis, it was three clicks and out of Wimbledon after he hit a backhand passing shot down the line and landed on the Centre Court grass.

"I felt I landed OK and heard a click," Philippoussis said.

He tried to play on, but heard two more clicks in his left knee, which he said "got stiffer and stiffer."

"It's a shame," Philippoussis said. "I don't like to go out this way."

Sampras wasn't thrilled about advancing this way, either.

"I kind of feel strange here having won this match, not really winning this match, but getting through," Sampras said.

It won't be easy for Sampras today. He'll face Henman and a public desperate to see a British man win Wimbledon for the first time since 1936.

Sampras has beaten Henman five times, including in last year's semifinals. But the off-court friends have played some terrific matches, punctuated by a three-set thriller in last month's Queens tournament.

"I know his game very well and he knows my game very well," Sampras said. "He's playing well. I'm playing OK."

Henman has dropped his British reserve and is playing with a fiery passion, punching his fist and letting out a roar every time he wins a big point. There is a sense that the 24-year-old has a maturing game and that he might be ready to finally win Wimbledon.

Agassi against Rafter provides a compelling contrast of styles, with the winner of the match assured of emerging with the No. 1 ranking on the men's ATP tour.

There's Agassi, on the baseline, belting out winners to his own beat, on a roll that began with his inspirational French Open triumph.

"I had no expectation to walk out and win the French," he said. "I don't think anyone can expect to win that tournament. But it's amazing. I have a hard time believing it still."

His luck held at Wimbledon, as he stormed through the bottom half of the draw having to face only one seeded player, clay-court specialist and No. 11 Kuerten.

"It's hard to be in the semis and not feel good about your game," Agassi said.

But today, Agassi meets one of the tournament heavyweights. Rafter is a classic serve-and-volley player, finally grown accustomed to the Wimbledon grass. He won a tense encounter against Martin, slipping through the tiebreakers with steely nerves and ferocious serves. It was a gentlemanly match, with Martin even calling out a "let" at one point.

But against Agassi, the stakes will be greater -- a shot for No. 1 and a place in the Wimbledon final.

"He [Agassi] is obviously hitting the ball very well," Rafter said. "I hope I can pick my serve up and get more consistent."

It may be a day late, but Wimbledon's semifinal table is set.

Sampras-Henman and Agassi-Rafter. Men's tennis hasn't had it this good in years.

NOTE: Because of his injury, Philippoussis will be sidelined four to six weeks and will miss Australia's Davis Cup quarterfinal series against the United States in Boston, July 16-18.

Men's singles, quarterfinals

Pete Sampras (1) def. Mark Philippoussis (7), 4-6, 2-1, retired.

Patrick Rafter (2) def. Todd Martin (8), 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3).

Andre Agassi (4) def. Gustavo Kuerten (11), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Tim Henman (6) def. Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

Pub Date: 7/03/99

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