Sampras rides inner drive past Safin into final

Straight-sets win boosts revived former champ

Hewitt in first Slam final

U.S. Open

September 09, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The crowd's outbursts around Arthur Ashe Stadium took on an almost rhythmic repetition - "Pete ... Marat ... Pete. Marat. Pete ... Break him!"

And No. 10 seed Pete Sampras, 30, responding perhaps not so much to the crowd but to his inner spirit, bullied his way into today's men's U.S. Open final.

He shook his fists, urged the umpire into an overrule that gave him an ace to set up a hold on his own serve, pointed into cameras and kissed his racket, as he worked systematically toward a 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory over No. 3 Marat Safin, the Open's defending champion.

Sampras' victory late in the afternoon moved the record-holding, 13-time Grand Slam champion into his first Grand Slam final of the year. Today, at 4 p.m., he will meet No. 4 seed Lleyton Hewitt, a 20-year-old from Australia, who is in his first Grand Slam final ever.

Hewitt advanced earlier in the afternoon with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 victory over No. 7 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Hewitt's victory was the most one-sided U.S. Open semifinal in the past 50 years.

"It's a great feeling," Sampras said of the opportunity he has given himself. "I worked hard to get here. I'd like to finish it up, but I know it won't be easy."

The victory continued his march through three past Open champions who have won the tournament since his last title here in 1996.

He ousted two-time champ Patrick Rafter with amazing ease. He followed it by taking a thrilling four-setter from longtime foe Andre Agassi, winning three of four tiebreakers.

And yesterday, despite the fact that Safin made only 13 unforced errors, Sampras ran him out of town, something of a payback for last year's Open final in which Safin had been the one to humble Sampras.

"I was efficient," said Sampras, who added that while it has been one of the toughest draws he has ever faced, it very well could be the reason why he is still standing.

"It's believing that I still have my game," he said, and he didn't have to add that he has gone 0-for-17 tournaments since winning Wimbledon 2000. "I feel playing these great players, I looked at them like finals. I was pumped up. I mean when I played Pat and Andre, now Marat, I was keyed up. This is what I do all the training for. ... And that's where I'm at in my tennis."

Now, having held serve an amazing 87 consecutive times since the second round, he faces Hewitt.

The Australian is inexperienced in Slam finals, but not inexperienced in matches against Sampras. They've played seven times and though Sampras holds the edge at 4-3, Hewitt has been the winner the past two times they've met - including one match on hard courts.

"But Pete, the way he played against Andre and Pat [and now Safin] is going to be very tough to beat," said Hewitt, who lost to Sampras here in the semifinal last year in three hard sets, 7-6 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (5). "But ... I'm definitely going to still be on that high from the last two or three matches that I played. I've been very consistent out there. I've been moving well. I'm going to try to take that into the final."

There was talk about a letdown, but there was no letdown in him yesterday as he dismantled Kafelnikov. The Russian had spoken of his great desire to take advantage of his semifinal opportunity and said how happy tennis fans in Russia would be to see him and compatriot Safin make it to the final.

But against Hewitt, Kafelnikov looked like a man out of dreams. Certainly, he was a man out of answers and out of step on the tennis court. His feet hit the hard surface like a giant's - flat-footed and loud - and the noise reverberated through the stadium, as he tried to reach one deep, angled Hewitt return after another.

The young Australian, who has been full of great promise ever since coming on the pro tour in 1998, simply razed the veteran who had once been No. 1 in the world.

"I tried very hard," Kafelnikov said, dejectedly. "But every time I tried to create something, Lleyton came up with a great passing shot. What makes him so good is that he gets so many balls back. You feel like you're dominating the point and all of a sudden he comes up with a ball that you never expect. Just too good.

"If he's going to chase so many balls tomorrow like he did today, it will be very difficult [for Sampras]."

Hewitt got to the final by matching Kafelnikov serve for serve (59 percent to 58 percent), ace for ace (five each), double fault for double fault (four for Kafelnikov, five for Hewitt) and then by blowing 25 winners past him.

"It was hard to keep my concentration after going up two sets," Hewitt said. "You think Yevgeny can only get better. I wanted to keep the momentum going and I got that early break [in the third].

"Unbelievable."

Hewitt was on Australia's winning Davis Cup team in 1999. But this is his first Grand Slam final and today, well, "It will be the biggest match of my career so far," he said.

For Sampras, it will also be the biggest match of his career. Of his rejuvenated career.

"These moments, this opportunity," he said. "That's why I keep doing what I want to do. I still enjoy playing out there. The atmosphere. The crowd. It's a rush. And, you know, once it's over, it's over. It could happen pretty quickly. But it's a great feeling walking out there in a final. This is the reason why I keep going."

NOTE: No. 18 seed Andy Roddick, who went into a tirade on court in the fifth set of his quarterfinal loss to Hewitt on Thursday, was fined $1,500 yesterday for "verbal abuse" against umpire Jorge Dias, who made an overrule on a ball on the opposite side of the court with Roddick serving at 4-5 Thursday.

Today's men's final

Who: No. 10 seed Pete Sampras vs. No. 4 seed Lleyton Hewitt

Where: Arthur Ashe Stadium, New York

Time: 4 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

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