Agassi, Sampras renew spirited rivalry


Opponents bring decade of memories and respect

U.S. Open

September 05, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Pete Sampras. Andre Agassi. A match made in heaven - or at least a match made for the nighttime on the hard courts at the U.S. Open.

They share a decade of history and a lifetime of memories.

"I played Pete for the first time when I was about 9 and he was 8," said Agassi. "The only difference then was that I was taller."

Sampras laughed.

"He was taller, but that quickly changed, thank God," he said.

Since then, they've been chasing each other around the tennis world: Sampras with his all-time record of 13 Grand Slam titles and Agassi with his seven and the added glory of being one of only five men to win Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. opens.

Sampras is still chasing his first French Open title.

Tonight, at Arthur Ashe Stadium, they will renew their rivalry for a spot in the U.S. Open men's semifinals.

They have so much history.

It was Sampras who defeated Agassi here in four sets in the 1995 final that sent him into a three-year tailspin, from which he finally recovered in 1999. That year Agassi won at both Roland Garros and the U.S. Open, and finished runner-up to Sampras at Wimbledon.

And now it is Agassi who provides the perspective on Sampras, as he works to dig his way out of a slump in which he has gone without winning a tournament since Wimbledon 2000.

Sampras leads their confrontations, 17-14. Agassi has won their last three meetings, and when asked if anything about those matches with Sampras surprised him, Agassi didn't miss a beat.

"That I won," he said. "I think some days I've seen him not serve as well, other days not move as well. But I've also seen him put it together. The last time we played, I felt I played really well. It had that energy for me of kind of me feeling like I needed to raise my level. It got down to a break in the first set. I felt like I stepped it up from there.

"Pete always makes you feel that way - that you have to step it up. The difference is, not all the time you can just turn it on against him. A lot of the times you have no say-so."

"We both know what's going to happen," Sampras said. "I mean, he's going to stay back and return. I have to be aggressive, but be patient at the same time. It's going to be a good one. It's going to be, hopefully, a classic that we can all remember. Hopefully, I can get through it, but he feels the same way.

"There's a lot of respect between us. There's a lot of history we have. It's a pick 'em match that is going to come down to how well I serve, how well he returns. It should be a good one."

Navratilova ousted

Martina - and there is only one - Navratilova can still pack 'em in. In Louis Armstrong Stadium.

In the courtyard outside it, around the big television screens. In the postmatch interview room.

Yesterday, the 44-year-old, seeded seventh with doubles partner Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, was derailed while playing for a spot in the U.S. Open semifinals by unseeded Sandrine Testud and Roberta Vinci, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

It was a match that had included a rousing second set and an early break in the third, before Testud and Vinci roared back to win.

"I didn't hold serve," Navratilova said disgustedly. "Basically that's the bottom line."

It was the bottom line of the match, but not of the postmatch interview.

She was asked to comment on Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic's sexually offensive comments at Wimbledon and here that were only made worse by his apology a few days ago, when he said he had nothing against homosexuals and added: "Maybe I should find something different to say. Maybe I should have said I played like a woman."

"Obviously, he's having some problems with expressing himself correctly," she said to laughter. "We could call it a language barrier, but that's what they say in that Slavic language. People have said it in English, but it doesn't work so well anymore because oftentimes girls or women play better than boys or men.

"I mean, there was a takeoff on the WNBA: `You play like a girl.' Thank you. That's a compliment. ... It's just stupid comments. They should be accountable, because they should not say it. ... but people say a lot of things they shouldn't say. I don't think it should overshadow Goran's accomplishment. It was just a stupid comment."

She went on to discuss many bias remarks and discriminatory actions against Gypsies in Europe, African-Americans everywhere and homosexuals. "You know none of that is acceptable [here]," she said.

"People should be more sensitive. We don't live in a bubble. ... Some people think they are better than others and that's bull. No one is better than anybody else. You're only as good as you are by your actions, not by the color of your skin, or certainly not by your sexuality."

Shriver nominated

Baltimore's Pam Shriver and Mats Wilander head the list of nominees in the Recent Player Category for the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Over her career, Shriver won 21 singles titles and 93 doubles titles and is one of only five women to have more than 100 career titles during the Open Era.

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