French Open, Paris
May 27, 1996; 128 Draw (16 seeded) – $5,125,107; Surface – Clay
It was an exceptional Roland Garros, conditions were fast because of warm weather and there wasn’t a typical clay-courter in the quarterfinals (four serve-and-volleyers and four offensive baseliners)! Other S&V specialist, Stefan Edberg playing his farewell season, experienced three days of rejuvenation eliminating former and future champions of the event, displaying beautiful offensive tennis. After two consecutive titles for Jim Courier (1991-92) and Sergi Bruguera (1993-94), everyone expected defense of the title by Thomas Muster, who came to Paris with a 31-1 clay-court record in 1996. He was stunned by Michael Stich, who executed a brilliant mix of all-court game. Both, he and Pete Sampras (best Roland Garros in career) couldn’t find a recipe to take a set off Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the last two matches of the tournament…
First round: (AP)
Defending champions Thomas Muster had little trouble putting away their first-round challengers today at the French Open. Muster gained control after a tough first set and went on to defeat unseeded Frederick Fetterlein of Denmark 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. Fetterlein, who has never gotten past the second round in a Grand Slam, gave second-seeded Muster pause with some grueling rallies to win four straight games in the 1st set. Groaning back at Muster’s stroke-for-stroke growl, Fetterlein took the seventh game with three aces in a row and led 4:3. But Fetterlein lacked staying power and Muster roared back to win the next three for the set. Muster broke serve in the 1st game of the 2nd set and Fetterlein never recovered. Fetterlein, ranked 107th, defeated Muster last year on a hard court in Tel Aviv (6-2, 6-7, 6-1) but couldn’t match him on clay. It was Muster’s first time back on Center Court since beating Michael Chang in last year’s final. “I had all the memories from last year,” Muster said. “It’s a great feeling to go out there and play again. There’s no pressure on me to win the tournament this year. I have nothing to prove. I feel like I’m in good shape and everything is working well for me.” Asked about about any problems with the twisted ankle he suffered last week, Muster said: “Just a little bit with the warm-up. Once I get moving, I’m quite right.” No. 13 Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands beat Sandor Noszaly of Hungary 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-1, 6-4 and 14th-seeded Marc Rosset of Switzerland defeated Carl-Uwe Steeb of Germany 6-4, 6-4, 6-0. Andrei Medvedev defeated Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. Two meetings lasted two days (darkness): Krajicek’s match was suspended at one set apiece, a match between Andrei Chesnokov  and Guy Forget at 4-all in the deciding set, Forget  took two straight games on the following day and prevailed 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 2-6, 3-6, 6-4 in 4 hours 11 minutes. Andre Agassi struggled with his temper and a rookie qualifier. Pete Sampras won a match many thought he might lose. Sampras, the men’s top seed, served 23 aces and beat Sweden’s Magnus Gustafsson, 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(5), yesterday for his first victory on clay this year, setting up a second-round clash against two-time champion Sergi Bruguera. “I’m trying to play on my terms, be aggressive, not be so passive like I have been in the past,” said Sampras , who has never advanced past the quarterfinals in Paris. Agassi, No. 3, received a warning and a point penalty for audible obscenities – one strike from disqualification – before taking advantage of a rain delay to subdue Spanish qualifier Jacobo Diaz, 6-1, 6-7(7), 6-4, 6-4. “I have a tendency to make it more difficult on myself than it needs to be,” said Agassi, who had 77 unforced errors and squandered two set points in the tie-break. The only seed eliminated was men’s No. 16 MaliVai Washington, who was forced to retire with a thigh injury while trailing, 7-6(4), 6-4, 3-0, against Grand Slam debutant Franco Squillari . French favorite Henri Leconte, playing his 15th and final French Open, lost, 6-1, 6-1, 6-4, to Thomas Johansson . As the Center Court crowd gave him a long standing ovation, Leconte  sobbed into his towel. He then climbed the umpire’s chair to grab the microphone and say farewell: “I will remember this day all my life.” It supposed to be the last match in Leconte’s career, but he played once again after Roland Garros, losing the first round in Rosmalen. Sampras had a surprisingly easy time against Gustafsson, a former top 10 player now ranked No. 34. Despite the cool, wet conditions that slowed the court down and made the balls heavier, Sampras dominated with his big serve, hitting 18 service winners to go with his bundle of aces. Sampras showed no signs of the back spasms that affected him last week in Dusseldorf. The only medical treatment he needed was for a bloody nose during the 3rd set. “I haven’t played a lot of clay court tennis this year,” Sampras said. “To come out and win in straight sets, I’m pretty pleased. It’s a good start for me.” Sampras said he was still trying to come to terms with the loss of his coach Tim Gullikson, who died May 3 from brain cancer. “It’s been really difficult,” he said. “I’d rather not comment too much on it. I’ll probably start tearing up. It’s tough to talk about.” Sampras next meets Bruguera, the 1993 and 1994 champion who is unseeded this year after a series of injuries. Sampras said it’s the toughest Grand Slam draw he has ever faced. But Sampras, who lost in the first round last year, said he hasn’t written off his chances of winning his first French Open – the only Grand Slam title to elude him. “I don’t feel like an underdog,” he said. “I feel like I’m the one expected to win – not the favorite to win the tournament, but really someone that could be very dangerous.” Jim Courier advanced with a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 decision over Russian qualifier Andrei Olhovskiy, No. 111 avenging one of the most sensational upsets of the 90s (Wimbledon ’92) – their only two matches. In a battle of Spanish players, Bruguera prevailed over No. 53 Javier Sanchez, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4, former 3-time champion Mats Wilander defeated No. 97 Jean-Phillippe Fleurian of France, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 while the upcoming champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov dismissed Galo Blanco 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. A champion of the following year, qualifier Gustavo Kuerten, played his first Grand Slam match (second overall on the main-level) losing 4-6, 5-7, 6-7(4) to Wayne Ferreira.
Second round: Robin Finn, Stephen Wilson
Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, baked by the same hot sun and prodded by the same burning ambition, took separate yet equally grueling forays into five-set territory Wednesday at Roland Garros. But afterward only the top-seeded Sampras, with the grit still clinging to his teeth and the clay-stained surrender of the two- time champion Sergi Bruguera in his pocket, was left in contention for a first-ever French Open title that is the one missing link in the Grand Slam resumes of both Americans. For the second time in three years, Agassi was dumped in the second round. The last time, in 1994, Thomas Muster, now this event’s defending champion, ousted him, and Agassi was philosophical about his five-set loss. This time the bald one was so devastated by the 4-6, 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-3, 6-2 coup performed by Chris Woodruff that he literally ran away from Paris. The beaten - in exactly 3 hours - Agassi elected a $2,000 fine instead of the mandatory news conference, jumped into a waiting car in the stadium’s underground garage and left the premises with his fiancee, Brooke Shields, in tow. From Woodruff’s perspective, Agassi was as impatient with his shot selection, a clay-court taboo, as he was about his getaway. “If anything, I thought he was impatient,” said the 72nd-ranked Woodruff, still sobbing in disbelief on court when Agassi, whose 63 unforced errors told Wednesday’s tale, disappeared from the stadium. “He was pretty determined to drive the ball through me after four or five shots; it seems like he was always trying to play offense and he had no real defense,” said Woodruff, who turned professional after winning the 1993 NCAA championship as a sophomore at the University of Tennessee. Between them, Sampras and Agassi spent six hours trying to survive their second-round assignations, neither of which had wholly logical outcomes. Sampras, who has never felt able to play his natural game on the red clay, rose to the challenge and defeated clay’s most natural artist, the unseeded Bruguera, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(2), 2-6, 6-3. “This match had a lot of everything,” Sampras said. “It gives me some confidence that I can play with the Brugueras and whomever, and that’s one thing I haven’t had before coming into this tournament.” Other men’s winners included No. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov (6-2, 7-5, 6-3 over Thomas Johansson) and No. 7 Jim Courier, who dropped seven games to David Rikl. No. 12 Albert Costa, considered a strong title contender, was ousted 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(6) by fellow Spaniard Francisco Clavet blowing a set point in the tie-break. “We were kind of in the same boat, didn’t play a lot of clay-court tennis coming in here, so that makes your confidence not so great,” said Sampras of the inadequate clay-court tune-ups he and Agassi had – between them they had played just three matches. “But everybody’s surprised he lost,” Sampras said. Next for Sampras is Todd Martin, who eliminated 75th-ranked Mats Wilander, 6-4, 7-6(5), 6-2. Agassi was so sanguine about his prospects that he breezed up to Woodruff before the match and, a little like the host of Roland Garros, introduced himself. “I’d never met him before, and before we went out on the court he said, `How ya doing; my name is Andre,”’ said Woodruff, “as if I didn’t know.” Once the match entered the fifth set, Agassi appeared to take control. He held serve at love and had Woodruff in a 0/40 hole in the 2nd game, but the rookie, who just a year ago “had one foot out the door” because he couldn’t handle the losses, refused to give up and go away. By his own admission, Woodruff simply “hung in there” and let Agassi self-destruct. Woodruff broke Agassi at love for a 3:2 lead, and when he broke him again in the 7th game, as Agassi spewed a pair of careless double-faults, the upset was inevitable. Was that Stefan Edberg serving and volleying like he used to at Wimbledon? And Goran Ivanisevic blasting a bunch of aces? And Michael Stich taking control at the net? With temperatures in the 90s and the sun baking the red clay into a slick surface, the big hitters and serve-and-volleyers thrived Thursday at the French Open, where the slow surface usually negates their strengths. Edberg, Ivanisevic and Stich all more comfortable on grass than clay played their offensive games to perfection to win in straight sets and move into the third round. Edberg’s victory set up a third- round encounter against fourth- seeded Michael Chang, one of the day’s winners who prefers a clay surface. Chang, who beat Richard Fromberg, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4, won in five sets the last time the two met on clay at Roland Garros in the 1989 French Open final. If the conditions hold up like this for another 10 days, a pure attacking player could win the men’s title for the first time since Yannick Noah in 1983. In fact, the only seed eliminated on Thursday was No. 11 Arnaud Boetsch, a clay-courter beaten by big-hitter Paul Haarhuis, 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 (Boetsch had a couple of set points leading 5:1 in the 1st set). “The chances are far greater under these conditions,” Edberg said. “You have to pray for good weather for the rest of the time.” Edberg overwhelmed another Spanish clay-courter, Carlos Moya, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. Moya, the only player to beat Muster on clay this year, looked helpless as the two- time Wimbledon champion took him apart on center court in 92 minutes. Although Edberg served only two aces, he had 14 service winners, won 73 percent of points on his first serve and took 36 points at the net. “It is one of those days where everything I do turns to gold,” said Edberg, playing in his 13th and final French Open. “It’s great for me when it’s hot and dry like it was today. It does benefit the guys who have big serves, playing offensive tennis.” Edberg now faces Chang, who had 60 unforced errors in a sloppy win over Fromberg. The fifth-seeded Ivanisevic, a Wimbledon finalist in 1992 and 1994, served 17 aces in his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 win over David Wheaton. “This is the fastest clay court I ever played on in my life,” he said. “It’s good to attack here because it’s sunny, the balls are very fast, and it’s good for us guys for serving big.” Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, hit 15 aces and beat another big server, Britain’s Greg Rusedski, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. Thomas Muster, who has lost only three matches on clay in the past two years, stuck to his baseline power game and ripped France’s Gerard Solves, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. Solves had won the longest match of the first round (4 hours 45 minutes against Marcos Ondruska, who couldn’t serve an ace). Muster said the conditions could favor the top-seeded Sampras, who has never advanced past the quarterfinals of the French, the only Grand Slam title to elude him. “Pete is the type of player who can win on any surface because he’s talented enough and he has the stokes to beat anybody on any surface,” Muster said.
Third round: (AP)
For five sets, Pete Sampras watched 29 aces by Todd Martin fly past. But it was Sampras who fired the ace that ended the match. The top-seeded American overcame a sizzling start by Martin, his close friend and golfing partner, to reach the fourth round of the French Open with a 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 victory. “Pete started off slowly and I started off quickly,” Martin said. “He finished quickly and I finished slowly.” Sampras had 20 aces and 34 service winners as the two big hitters put on a display of power tennis rarely seen on the red clay at Roland Garros. “At some times during the match, I thought the Roland Garros gods would be rolling in their graves,” Martin said. “It was very quick tennis for awhile.” Sampras repeatedly dug himself out of trouble with his first serve, saving eight break points during the match – including two crucial set points in the 3rd set at 4:5 (15/40). Sampras also managed to break Martin four times, despite the barrage of aces. “He has a serve that’s very hard to read,” Sampras said. “When he serves 29 aces, there’s not a lot you can do. You just have to hang around.” Sampras, who has never advanced past the quarterfinals in Paris, came into the tournament without having a single clay-court victory this year. But he has survived a nasty draw that included Magnus Gustafsson in the first round and two-time former champion Sergi Bruguera in the second. “It’s been the toughest first week I’ve had in a major,” Sampras said. “To get through these matches gives me a lot of confidence.” The victory took 3 hours, 21 minutes and in his last two matches, Sampras has played 10 sets over 6 hours and 19 minutes. “He hasn’t helped his chances too much by going five sets in the last two matches,” Martin said. The way Martin came out in the first set, it looked like Sampras would be finished quickly. Martin hit winners from all over the court, returned Sampras’ serve with power and precision and broke him twice to take the set in 25 minutes. “He came out so good, it was frightening… phenomenal,” Sampras said. “He was toying with me for a while. But to maintain that level for three sets is pretty tough to do and I clawed my way back into the match.” Among the men, the winners included No. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, No. 7 Jim Courier, No. 10 Wayne Ferreira and No. 13 Richard Krajicek. Courier was up two sets to one and leading 5:4 in the 4th after 190 minutes of play when his opponent, Karol Kucera, retired with a sprained right ankle. Chris Woodruff, who had upset third-seeded Andre Agassi in the second round, lost in his second-ever five-setter, 7-6(5), 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, to Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden. Woodruff led 4:3 with a break in the 5th set. Seven years later, Stefan Edberg gained a measure of revenge against Michael Chang. The 30-year-old Edberg, resisting the retirement he announced at the start of the season, upset the the former French Open champion 4-6, 7-5, 6-0, 7-6(1) and advanced to the fourth round of the only Grand Slam tournament he never has won. “I felt like I was 18 or 19,” the unseeded Edberg, who is ranked No. 45 in the world, said after receiving a standing ovation from the Center Court crowd. “I played some of the best tennis I’ve played for a very, very long time.” And Edberg did it at Roland Garros, where he experienced one of the most agonizing moments of his career. In the 1989 final, Edberg leading two sets to one wasted 10 break points against Chang, who executed one of his tenacious comebacks to become, at 17, the youngest men’s title winner. “It came into my mind, after losing the third set, being up two sets to love,” Edberg said. “This was a good revenge.” Edberg was the clear favorite of the crowd. “You’re popular when you’re young, and then when you’re old, the people start cheering for you again,” he said. In keeping with that sentiment, he played like old times. Edberg’s net coverage forced Chang, the fourth seed, to pass and aim for the lines, a risky and, ultimately, low-percentage play. Even though Chang generally loves a target at the net, he missed the mark. “I definitely would have liked to be a little bit sharper on my passing shots,’‘ said Chang, who hadn’t lost to Edberg since the semifinals of the 1992 U.S. Open, despite trailing 12-8 lifetime against the Swede. He took a 2:0 lead in the 1st set but was broken back in the third game. Chang broke again in the 10th game to win the set. The second set went Edberg’s way as Chang double-faulted on key points. Chang received treatment after the fifth game for muscle strain, then played poorly for a long stretch. “He lost the momentum for quite some time,” Edberg said. “Getting even with him one set all, that made a big, big difference. After that, I sort of saw I had a chance.” Marcelo Rios, one of those high-octane newcomers who tend to make Edberg feel old, proved far too predatory an opponent for Edberg’s doubles partner, Petr Korda, the Czech veteran who lost the 1992 final to Jim Courier. “Whenever he had the chance, you know, he converted it, and I think I had like 20 game points or break points and I didn’t make them,” Korda said after absorbing a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 thrashing from th ninth-seeded Rios on the Center Court. “Whatever he touched, he hit the winner.” “I can see myself making the final,” Rios said. He is 21-4 on clay in 1996, with two of those losses to Thomas Muster, the defending champion, who advanced 6-2, 5-2 after a sprained ankle downed Adrian Voinea. The Romanian used Muster as a human crutch as he limped from the court. Yevgeny Kafelnikov needed three quick sets to eliminate clay-court specialist Felix Mantilla 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
Fourth round: Stephen Wilson
Pete Sampras won quickly for a change, passing another test in his bid for his first French Open title, outplayed the talented Australian Scott Draper 6-4, 7-5, 6-2. “It was a bit of up and down tennis,” Sampras said. “It was very cold, very heavy, which isn’t great for my game.” Draper , who reached the fourth round here last year, kept close with Sampras for the first two sets. But he seemed to fold after failing to convert two break points at 5:5 in the 2nd. “That was my chance,” Draper said. “I didn’t capitalize on it.” Best of all for Sampras, the match was over in 1 hour, 51 minutes. In his first three matches, Sampras played 13 sets over 8 hours, 22 minutes – including five-setters against Sergi Bruguera and Todd Martin. “My body is a little bit tired, a little bit sore,” Sampras said. “It’s good to win in three sets. Being out there for three or three-and-a-half hours wears you down. To go out and get it done reasonably quickly, it just helps you out in the long run.” It’s the fourth time Sampras has reached the quarterfinals in Paris. His next opponent will be seventh-seeded Jim Courier, the former two-time champion who downed No. 10 Wayne Ferreira of South Africa 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3. In their only previous meeting on clay, Courier beat Sampras in the French Open quarterfinals two years ago. “I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Sampras said. “It’s certainly going to be a battle.” Among other men advancing were No. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who beat Francisco Clavet 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, and No. 13 Richard Krajicek, who stopped Jonas Bjorkman, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Clavet was the only Spaniard in the last 16! Thomas Muster‘s reign as French Open champion was cut short by a serve-and-volleyer with a gimpy ankle and few expectations. Michael Stich, who nearly skipped the tournament after recent surgery on his left ankle, accomplished Monday what only three others have managed to do in the last two years: beat Muster on clay. Controlling points with his serve (23 aces) and outplaying Muster from the baseline, the 15th-seeded German won 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(1) to reach the quarterfinals and continue the surprising run of attacking players at Roland Garros. “There was a lot of pressure on him to defend his title,” Stich said. “I had nothing to lose. He had a lot to lose… He definitely was not on top of his game.” The second-seeded Muster, usually so relentless and tenacious, seemed to run out of steam after a grueling, 10-week European clay court season. “I’m normally up for the big matches,” he said, “but I just wasn’t today.” After Muster won the first set and went up a break in the 2nd (3:1*), Stich turned the match in his favor when he broke back in the 6th game. From 4:4, Stich won eight of the next nine games to take the second and third sets. Muster went up 5:2 and served for the 4th set in the 9th game, but Stich won four of the next five games to force a tiebreaker. On the first point, Stich hit a forehand that clipped the top of the net and dropped over. Muster won the next with a vicious return, but Stich then won six straight points ending the match with a forehand volley into the open court. Stich dropped his racket, threw up his arms and went over to the stands to kiss his wife, Jessica. Then he did a little knee-pumping dance. “I have to create a new name for this dance,” he said. “It was just like sheer joy.” Muster took the defeat stoically. “It’s a disappointment,” he said, “but winning last year hasn’t changed my life (and) this is not going to change it either. I don’t think they’re going to take my name away (from the champions’ trophy) because I lost.” The tournament also lost its sentimental favorite Monday: Stefan Edberg, playing for the 13th and final time in the one Grand Slam event he has never won, bowed out in straight sets to 14th-seeded Marc Rosset. “It’s just a pity I couldn’t play better than I did today,” said Edberg, who blew farewell kisses to the crowd after the 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 defeat. “It’s the first day I didn’t feel as good as the other days.” Two unseeded players advanced to the quarterfinals in shocking straight setters: Bernd Karbacher knocked off No. 5 Goran Ivanisevic 6-3, 6-1, 6-2, and Cedric Pioline took out No. 9 Marcelo Rios 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Ivanisevic appeared hobbled by blisters on the ball of this left foot and was treated by the trainer at 5:0 in the 2nd set. Ivanisevic received a code violation warning for unsportsmanlike conduct after he double-faulted at love in the 3rd game of the 3rd set. Karbacher  advanced to a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the second time, previously US Open ’94. Edberg was unable to replicate the magic of his third-round victory over Michael Chang. With the crowd chanting ‘Ste-fan! Ste-fan!’ he made a last-ditch run after Rosset went ahead 5:1 in the 3rd set. Edberg saved four match points, one at 5:1, and a triple match point at 5:2. He had another break point in the eighth game but Rosset served an ace, held firm and finished the match with another ace (his ninth). Rosset put his arm around Edberg, then clapped for him and left the court to allow him to enjoy the ovation. The Olympic gold medalist Rosset moved through to the Grand Slam quarterfinals for the first time in 24th attempt.
Quarterfinals: Julie Cart, Stephen Wilson
When Pete Sampras and Jim Courier are asked to catalog their greatest matches, it says something about their enduring rivalry that each has to pause before answering. It seems that all the matches between these big hitters take on epic proportions. In the future, when they are asked the question again, Tuesday’s quarterfinal match at the French Open might leap to mind. The 3-hour 31-minute, five-set battle featured long, punishing rallies and 57 aces – an unheard of amount for a clay-court match. As he has 15 of the 18 times the two have met, Sampras won, 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. The win puts the top-seeded Sampras in the semifinals of the French Open for the first time. He will have two days off before he plays Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia. Kafelnikov defeated Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-2 (the only set Kafelnikov dropped in the fortnight, he wasn’t broken once against Krajicek!). Sampras and Courier both served well – Courier had 29 aces and Sampras 28. The first service break did not come until the 6th game of the 2nd set. There were only six breaks of serve in 53 games, which speaks to the quality and closeness of the match. Courier took the first two sets by doing what he always does: working hard from the baseline, moving the ball and his opponent with deep shots. Sampras inexplicably abandoned the attacking, serve-and-volley game that has taken him through a tough draw and played a wobbly two sets. Sampras began to reclaim the initiative in the 4th set in a remarkable 8th game. Sampras was facing two break points and served an ace to deal with the first. On the next point his first serve went out as he broke a string. Sampras then selected another racket and before he had a chance to test the new implement, he was at the service line and fired a second-serve ace. Courier sent an easy forehand to the net two points later and Sampras held, but it seemed he had subtly gained. He broke Courier in the next game and served out the set. Courier grew more intense as the 5th set drew on, and Sampras huffed and puffed between points. If not for the fact that his serving kept some points short, Sampras looked as if he might not make it. As Sampras was serving for the match, he doubled over while standing at the service line, presumably fending off cramps or fatigue. Then he fired an ace on match point, causing Courier to mumble to no one in particular on court, “The guy’s in his grave and he’s serving 190 mile-an-hour bullets.” Courier later suggested that Sampras is a good actor, with his hangdog expression. “Some people put up a front that they are tough,” Courier said. “Pete tends to put up a front that he’s hurting, but he still seems to fire those aces. I don’t pay much attention to him when he’s looking tired, it really doesn’t matter because he’s got a great heart. He’s got a strong heart and he’s going to leave it on the court.” If Pete Sampras seems to be on a mission at the French Open, Michael Stich and Marc Rosset appear to be on a vacation. Stich says he’s just trying to have fun again, while Rosset claims he’s happy just to have advanced past the second round this time. No one expected much from either of them – including themselves – but Stich and Rosset continued their surprising runs Wednesday to reach the semifinals. Stich, the 15th seed, who entered the tournament mainly to test out his left ankle following recent surgery, took out France’s Cedric Pioline 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. “I have no pressure whatsoever,” Stich said. “I’m just enjoying myself. I’m just having fun playing tennis. For me, that’s the most important thing.” Rosset, No. 14, rallied from two sets down to beat Germany’s Bernd Karbacher, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-0, becoming the first Swiss player to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. Rosset said he drew inspiration for his comeback from Sampras, who battled from two sets down to overcome Courier in five sets Tuesday and move closer to winning the only Grand Slam title to elude him. “I thought a little bit about Pete and what he did yesterday,’‘ Rosset said. “I tried to come in more. I tried to be more aggressive, to put more pressure on Bernd. I think it worked.” Stich wasn’t having much fun in the 1st game of the 3rd set. He questioned line calls on three consecutive first serves by Pioline, drawing whistles and jeers from the center-court crowd. In the next game, fans cheered when Stich double-faulted, and he responded by clapping the face of his racket. Down 0/40, Stich saved three break points and broke in the next game. He was in control the rest of the way as Pioline folded quickly in the fourth set. Rosset, the 1992 Olympic champion, is another player coming off injury. He broke his right hand punching an advertising board at the Hopman Cup mixed doubles tournament in Perth, Australia, in January, forcing him to miss the Australian Open. “Even now when I shake hands and if the guy is like too powerful, it’s pretty painful,” he said. Rosset has a long string of failures at the French Open, losing three times in the first round and three times in the second. “A good French Open is when I go past two rounds,” he said. “If the tournament will stop for me in the semifinals, I still will be very pleased. I think it’s fabulous for me.” After shanking an overhead in the 5th game of the 4th set (Karbacher led 2:0 early on), Rosset walked to the side of the court and plucked a pair of sunglasses from a spectator. He walked back to the service line before handing the glasses to a ball boy, who returned them to their owner. The German was two points away from the biggest success of his career leading 5:4* (30/15), in the following game he had led 40/0 before lost five straight points. Rosset took command while serving for the fourth set at 6:5. Karbacher forced a break point, but Rosset pulled off a backhand half volley that just dipped over the net. He followed with a service winner and an ace to close out the set. After Rosset broke in the 1st game of the 5th and held in a long second game (Rosset won it on sixth game point having saved three break points), Karbacher faded and put up little resistance. Walking off the court, Rosset handed his racket to French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, who was seated in his usual courtside box. “Jean-Paul is class,” Rosset said. “For me he is a great character. I always told myself once I was playing on center court, if he was there, I would do it.”
Semifinals: Robin Finn
He referred to himself as a car that ran out of gas, a balloon that popped, a Center Court sleepwalker who was too tired to heed his wake-up call, a disappointed man who came painfully close to attaining a Grand Slam honor so rare that only four men in the history of tennis have ever achieved it. Pete Sampras, with his brow furrowed and his shoulders slumped and his mission melting beneath a scorching sun, was drummed out of the French Open semifinals, 7-6(4), 6-0, 6-2, today by sixth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia. In his first Grand Slam final, Kafelnikov, a late-bloomer who still hasn’t accepted or fulfilled the predictions of his No. 1-caliber talent, will face on Sunday 15th-seeded Michael Stich, a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victor over Marc Rosset. “He was not the Pete like we’re used to seeing on the court,” the 22-year-old Kafelnikov said after his second consecutive victory against Sampras on clay this year. Certainly, the uncontested middle set represented only the fifth time in his career that the top-ranked Sampras, whose serve is normally a willing servant, has surrendered a set without winning a single game. The 92-degree heat (33 Celsius) that equaled an 1873 record for this date in Paris evidently caused Sampras’s dwindling store of adrenaline to evaporate altogether. “After the first set, I just felt the balloon pop, the tires were flat,” he said. “It was the hottest day of the tournament, and it’s tough to play out there when you don’t have the energy you want, and clay is a surface where you need that energy.” Sampras fumbled away a 4:2 lead in the opening set’s flawed tie breaker, and was not a factor thereafter. “The second set I just didn’t have anything, and the third, I had a little bit, but I was still running on fumes,” he said. “It’s disappointing because I fought so hard to get here, so many emotional matches throughout the past week.” Sampras had put in five more hours of match time before the semifinal than Kafelnikov, who has lost just one set here. Last year, Kafelnikov bowed in a straight-set semifinal here to the eventual champion, Thomas Muster. After today’s breakthrough, the Russian graciously acknowledged that Sampras had traveled a far rougher road to his first French Open semifinal than Kafelnikov had to reach his second. “As we both know, Pete had a much tougher draw than I did,” Kafelnikov said. “He’d played a lot of tennis.” A double fault at break point gave Kafelnikov a 2:0 break in the 2nd set, and Sampras didn’t win another game until he held for 1:1 in the 3rd set with only his sixth ace. Entering the final, Kafelnikov leads Stich in their rivalry, 6-3, but he was quick to point out that the German buried him in straight sets in their only previous Grand Slam meeting, in the 1994 United States Open. Stich has been particularly imperious the past two weeks. In today’s other semifinal, Stich, the implacable German who nearly skipped this event for fear he hadn’t completely healed from ankle surgery in March, browbeat the 14th-seeded Rosset into submission. “This is something I never would have believed could or would happen,” said Stich, who calls himself a more complete player now than the one who reached the 1991 Roland Garros semifinals and then made an abrupt but perfect transition to grass and prevailed at Wimbledon. Sampras made a similarly remarkable, if ultimately unsuccessful, transition to clay here. He defeated a pair of two-time French Open champions, Sergi Bruguera and Jim Courier, and survived three five-set marathons, including a quarterfinal comeback from two-sets-to-none against Courier. Sampras began the tournament with an aching back, and then he had to be treated with intravenous fluids and massage after that 3-hour-31-minute epic with Courier. And Sampras came into the French Open with a broken heart, because of the May 3 death of his coach, Tim Gullikson. His defeat today was all the more deflating because the 24-year-old Sampras was just two victories away from becoming the fifth player in history to collect titles from all four Grand Slam tournaments. Only Fred Perry, Don Budge, Roy Emerson, and Rod Laver have done so. “I beat some players who have won here, so I know it can be done, it’s in my sights,” sighed Sampras, who had hoped to pay a final homage to Gullikson by capturing the only Slam they hadn’t been able to win together. “Mentally and physically and emotionally, I think this is probably the worst I’ve felt.”
Final: Robin Finn
The most balanced Grand Slam 3-set final of the Open era in which a player who lost all sets could have won them all: Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who was told at 16 that he had no promise only to be chided at 20 for not living up to his talent, today became the first Russian to win a Grand Slam title when he defeated Michael Stich in the French Open final, 7-6(4), 7-5, 7-6(4) in 2 hours 30 minutes (58, 43, 49). The baseline brilliance of the 22-year-old Kafelnikov, seeded sixth, proved too much trouble for the 15th-seeded Stich to handle. Stich’s 15 aces didn’t save him and his feeble rate of success on first serves skewered him on the sun-kissed Center Court of Roland Garros, a stadium Kafelnikov first became enamored of when he was “a 13-year-old nobody” and the non-playing fifth wheel on the junior team of the former Soviet Union. Anatoly Lepeshin, the coach of that team and Kafelnikov’s only mentor since he was a difficult, underachieving 17-year-old with a dismal junior world ranking of 450th, sobbed in the stands today as he watched his player’s breakthrough. “I was trying to give everything that was still in my body,” Kafelnikov said. “I never thought I could do it, win a Grand Slam at age 22, especially after being in the quarterfinals five times in the last two years.” He didn’t lose his composure in this two-and-one-half-hour slug-fest until he had finally converted on his fourth match point by burying a forehand at Stich’s shoelaces. With that, Kafelnikov let out a hoot of relief, hurled his racquet into the stands and hopped onto the victory podium to kiss his silver trophy and express his thanks to the 27-year-old Stich for being kind enough to let him win. Kafelnikov said his victory in the men’s doubles on this same court on Saturday was the perfect rehearsal for his first appearance in a Grand Slam final (Kafelnikov along with Daniel Vacek beat Jacob Hlasek/Guy Forget 6-2, 6-3 in the final). By winning both events, Kafelnikov became the first man to collect both trophies at Roland Garros since Ken Rosewall in 1968. Before Kafelnikov, the last man to collect both titles at a Grand Slam event had been Stefan Edberg at the 1987 Australian Open. Kafelnikov also equates playing lots of matches with having lots of confidence. For the past two years, he has played more matches – 171 in 1994, when he was named the most improved player on the circuit, and 167 in 1995 – than anyone else. “I am not going to go any wild,” Kafelnikov said of his celebration plans. They focused on getting reservations on the first plane bound for Sochi, the seaside resort town that is his hometown. Kafelnikov acknowledged that he has been regarded as something of a black sheep by the Russian public, not only because his star hasn’t risen as quickly as expected, but because he is a most reluctant celebrity. “Maybe they just don’t like me,” Kafelnikov said, “because I am kind of a closed person.” Against Stich he was an overly aggressive person, even though he seldom vacated the baseline. “He was trying to dominate me at the net, but I tried to maintain the deepest from the baseline,” Kafelnikov said. “I think I was a little bit more consistent than Michael, almost forcing him to do so many mistakes.” Kafelnikov benefited from a profusion of unforced errors – 56 – from the frustrated German. Stich had tossed away his racquet after netting the lazy backhand that lost him the opening set, but that was just the beginning of his discontent. Things turned catastrophic for the 1991 Wimbledon champion when, after taking a *5:2 lead in the 2nd set, he was twice broken as he served for the set at 5:2 (30-all) and 5:4 (40/30). He was broken a third time at 5:6 as he tried to force another tie breaker. In the 1st set Stich was two points away at 6:5* (30-all). Kafelnikov took a two-sets-to-none grip on the match when Stich missed a forehand volley trying to fend off a bullet of a backhand pass. Stich complained that there was a thicker layer of serve-deadening sand on Center Court than there had been previously. But he admitted that Kafelnikov, who leads their rivalry by 7-3, had the edge on smarts and skill on the important points. “It was a very even match and I had my chances, enough of them, and I just couldn’t take them,” Stich said. “I served very badly, didn’t serve well when I had to, and that’s what it came down to.” He had his chances also in the 3rd set as he led 4:2; at 4:5 he saved a match point, in the following game squandered a break point (Kafelnikov’s backhand winner). Stich had surprised himself by reaching a Grand Slam final, his first since he was runner-up to Andre Agassi at the 1994 US Open, only three months after undergoing ankle surgery. His concession speech, delivered in halting French, credited this event with helping him regain his love for his sport. “I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, but if you’re in the finals, you want to win; you don’t get anything for being runner-up,” said Stich, who did get $345,000 but professes no interest in all things monetary at this stage of his career. Kafelnikov’s 10th title.