US Open, New York
August 31-September 13, 1998; 128 Draw – $; Surface – Hard
Patrick Rafter wins second straight US Open, in 1997 he became an unexpected champion, one year later he was the main favorite along with Pete Sampras, whom he beat in the semifinal. The 1997 runner-up, Greg Rusedski won two opening rounds saving match points, Mark Philippoussis survived second longest 5th set tie-break in a quarterfinal victory over Thomas Johansson..
First round: Bill Felischman
“I am feeling pretty fresh, pretty relaxed,” the 20th-ranked Michael Chang said yesterday, after breezing past Israel’s Eyal Erlich, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1, in a first-round match. Chang’s confidence, severely dented by the loss to Rafter (US Open ’97) and several injuries this year, was bolstered by winning last week’s tournament in Boston. Referring to the Rafter setback, he said, “My results for the rest of the year went kaput. After Pete lost, I definitely felt the pressure to win this event. Patrick was just too good on the semifinal day.” Lurking ahead in Chang’s quarter of the draw is No. 7 seed Alex Corretja. If Chang and Marcelo Rios continue winning, they would meet in a quarterfinal. While the deeply religious Chang, winner of only one Grand Slam title in his career (the 1989 French Open), peacefully handles his tennis peaks and valleys, Rios doesn’t seem to be enjoying life. Even though he has temporarily displaced Sampras as No. 1 twice this year, Rios is still maturing. Yesterday, the 22-year-old Chilean registered a convincing, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory over 43rd-ranked Daniel Vacek, who had defeated Rios in Cincinnati earlier this summer. A few weeks ago, Rios and his coach, Larry Stefanki, split. “I have not been having a lot of fun playing tennis,” Rios said, “There are not many coaches around Chile. It is tough to go to Chile and pick someone because right now there is nobody.” They began play under threatening clouds Wednesday night and split the first two sets. Gianluca Pozzi was leading the 3rd set 5:2* when it began to rain, forcing the match to be suspended. That sent Corretja back to his room to do some deep thinking. “It was a tough situation for me,” he said. “I mean it was not easy. I went to sleep almost two sets to one down. I just said to myself, ‘OK, just try to play your tennis and if it works, perfect, and if not, just go home.'” When they returned on Thursday, Corretja was a changed player. He came back to win the third set and then finished Pozzi in the fourth, winning the match 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 7-5. Fourth-seeded Petr Korda became the first high seed to suffer an upset when he lost to 155th-ranked Bernd Karbacher, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, in the first round. In two previous losses to Korda, Karbacher had taken just one set. Korda, 30, blamed mental exhaustion for the loss. He said he had to leave his wife, Regina, in Bradenton, five days after she gave birth to their second child in late July, and hasn’t seen his family since. Karbacher, ranked No. 22 three years ago, has returned to the tour following treatment for a serious heart condition. ”I am very tired at the moment, mentally, everything; I was not pumped at all today,” said Korda, who was out-aced, 15-2, produced 57 unforced errors and felt everything go downhill from the second set on. French Open champion Carlos Moya won his first-round match, 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-7(3), 4-4, retired, when his opponent, Argentina’s Mariano Puerta, suffered a right hip-flexor cramp in the middle of a point. Puerta needed a wheelchair to leave the court. Pete Sampras, dressed all in white but no country-club gentleman, starred on a sun-drenched Monday afternoon on the Stadium Court. Showing a little more of his top-ranked game with each changeover, Sampras swaggered into the second round, tossing aside the big serves of Marc-Kevin Goellner for a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory. And Andre Agassi, merely making another in a series of fashion statements, beat France’s Sebastien Grosjean in the last match of opening day, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4. The afternoon crowd didn’t see the best Sampras, the one who took Wimbledon for the fifth time and is trying to add a fifth U.S. title – and record-tying 12th Grand Slam singles crown. It didn’t have to be. Goellner, a 27-year-old German, last won a match more than two months ago. His game consists primarily of a first serve that reaches 115 mph if he’s on, and against Sampras much more is needed. Sampras had 11 aces and dropped just 15 points on his serve, clocking one first-set ace at 131 mph. He didn’t allow Goellner, ranked 109th in the world, a break point, and toyed with him from both baseline and net in winning in just 84 minutes. The player Sampras beat at Wimbledon, 14th-seeded Goran Ivanisevic, had 23 aces in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Australia’s Mark Woodforde. Agassi, who is seeded eighth and could meet Sampras in the quarterfinals, kept Grosjean pinned to the baseline with forehands and slicing backhands. After wasting a string of break points in the 3rd set, the 1994 Open camp finally broke for a 5:4 lead and served out the match at love. “I like to be here,” Agassi said of a tournament where he has played consistently well and a court he called “super-fast.” “You have to prioritize tournaments, but this is certainly at the top of my list. This is a city where I’ve had some fantastic results.” Greg Rusedski slammed the ball right into the net, prolonging a U.S. Open match Tuesday that had already passed the three-hour mark. Instead of dwelling on the blown opportunity, the sixth-seeded Rusedski calmly wrapped up the match four points later. The 4-6, 7-6(2), 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-4 victory over Wayne Ferreira moved him into a second-round match. “I think it’s just being mentally stronger and being experienced,” said Rusedski, the Canadian-turned-Briton who saved two match points in the 4th set (serving at 5:6, 15/40 – two service winners). “I should have never missed that overhead, but I guess I made all the club players in the world feel good.” When the pony-tailed Patrick Rafter was not sweating bullets, he was busy dodging them. A rapt audience at Arthur Ashe Stadium watched in disbelief, and later in amazement, as the third-seeded Australian played right into and then boldly extracted himself from Hicham Arazi‘s best-laid plans for a major ambush. Instead, after two sets of mangled volleys and missed returns, Rafter, who chose perseverance over panic, regrouped and kept his title defense intact with a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 comeback. Arazi used a blizzard of passing shots, and ultimately a service winner, to take a two-sets-to-none lead. Rafter was on the verge of defeat when he was serving at 3-all 15/40 in the 3rd set, having lost two previous games when the Moroccan had break points; Rafter saved the double virtual match point with service winners, and converted his first break point of the match in the following game with a bunch of volleys – the momentum shifted in his favor. Arazi had dropped his serve to trail by 1:3* in the 5th set after ballooning a forehand pass way wide at break point, he was hurling racquets and epithets in all directions. The 44th-ranked Arazi, a mosquito of a man who makes a habit of getting under the opponent’s – and the umpire’s – skin, had twice reached the French Open quarterfinals, but here at the Open he has never won a match. The comeback was Rafter’s fourth career reversal of a two-sets-to-none deficit and improved his record in five-set entanglements to 10-2, but did it leave him with a renewed sense of confidence? ”Not really,” he deadpanned. In amazing style his match lost Albert Costa (seeded No. 16), who won easily first two sets against Olivier Gross of Germany. On match point at 5:3 in the 3rd set, Costa played a forehand just inches beside the sideline. In the following game he was broken for the first time that day, and the match turned around – Gross won 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4! His match lost also other Costa, Carlos – he was beaten by Wayne Arthurs 3-6, 7-5, 4-6, 4-6. The 27-year-old Arthurs  played his first Grand Slam match advancing to the main draw for the first time in 17 attempts! Gross’ compatriot, Tommy Haas fired 30 aces in three sets (!) beating Jordi Burillo 6-3, 7-5, 6-4.
Second round: Jennifer Frey
“Hey, kid!” one fan screamed today, his voice pure New York. “Ya never know, kid! Ya never know!” And the kid – 22-year-old Paul Goldstein of Rockville – turned around and grinned. His day, after all, was turning out better than he dreamed. In the first really big match of his professional career, Goldstein pushed the four-time champion Pete Sampras to four sets before falling, 7-6(4), 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, to leave Sampras sweat-soaked and smiling ruefully about the way his second-round match had played out. Asked if he appreciated the unusual early round workout, Sampras shook his head. “Hey, I’m not getting any younger,” Sampras, 27, said. While Sampras struggled early against Goldstein, Andre Agassi, 28, was across the NTC grounds in the new main stadium – Arthur Ashe Stadium – having an even more difficult time with Guillaume Raoux. After winning the first two sets with a minimum of trouble, Agassi had to fight to take a 6-3, 6-2, 6-7(6), 3-6, 6-1 victory over the 45th-ranked Frenchman. “He caught me off guard a little bit,” Sampras said. “He moves very well. He fights very hard. He was giving me some problems. It wasn’t a great day for me.” Greg Rusedski was taken to five sets for the second successive match as the US Open at Flushing Meadow proved a test of endurance for the British number one. He eventually won through to the third round 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 despite his Czech opponent having a match point at 5:4 in the final set. Bohdan Ulihrach was unable to control a high kicking serve and the crisis passed with Rusedski, who saved two match points in his previous match with Wayne Ferreira, made the decisive break in the next game. Rusedski served 30 aces (fired 11 more than against Ferreira in the previous round). “His lob was fantastic today. He had so much variety and he played a great match. I just tried to stay in there and stay positive and if I always give 100 per cent, I feel I can win in the end,” a relieved Rusedski said afterwards. Felix Mantilla has this reputation as a clay-court player, the kind of specialist who ought to be a soft touch on hardcourts. So how come Tim Henman, seeded No. 13 at the U.S. Open, needed four tough sets to subdue him 6-3, 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 on Friday? Because, Henman explained, Mantilla’s game is a lot less limited than his reputation. “I think I play very well on hardcourts,” the Spaniard said. “I am improving my game.” Henman agreed. “He’s a guy in the top 20 who made the finals last week at Long Island,” Henman said. “He’s had a lot of good results on hardcourts.” The night match featured the talent and temper of the tempestuous Goran Ivanisevic, who had 20 aces and a 132-mph serve in a 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-5, 6-3 victory over Todd Martin. The 14th-seeded Ivanisevic muttered to himself in Croatian and banged his head on the court after missing points. But he also won a point with a spectacular shot between his legs with his back to the net. It was easy to feel embarrassment for Sergi Bruguera, the once-great two-time French Open champion who now looks like little more than a lucky loser out of a qualifying tournament. He lost his second-round match to No. 92 Oliver Gross 6-1, 6-3, 6-4 on Friday, playing with little or no zeal. “I’m not playing very good and my mind is not the same as it used to be,” he said. “I lose motivation a little bit and a sense to fight. But I want to recover this. I expect to recover.” When? Bruguera is 2-11 in his last 13 matches, 10-23 for the year and has lost to his first opponent in 13 of his 21 tournaments. With his ranking plummeted to No. 105, he’s going to have a hard time getting straight into major ATP Tour tournaments. Friday, Marcelo Rios did little to shed any light on the open question his season has become. Rios, the No. 2 seed, defeated qualifier Giorgio Galimberti 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-2 in the second round. How impressive was Rios? It’s hard to know because Galimberti is ranked 320th in the world and was playing in his first Grand Slam event. There were also 55 unforced errors on Rios’ scorecard. Galimberti had 58. “He missed too many balls – that’s why I won,” Rios said. “I think I was pretty lucky that I won that match. I’m not at my level right now. I’m too up and down. I haven’t found my rhythm yet.” In the “youngest match of the year” 18-year-old Marat Safin dismissed 17-year-old “wild card” Taylor Dent 6-3, 6-1, 7-6(2). Other youngster, Tommy Haas playing his first match on the main arena in New York, jumped to a *5:1 lead in the 1st set against Yevgeny Kafelnikov, but lost the match 5-7, 2-6, 6-1, 5-7. Carlos Moya dropped to his knees as the final point sailed out, celebrating the first two-set rally of his career and the end of a match that kept things rocking at the U.S. Open until 1:33 a.m. Saturday. Moya and Michael Chang, both French Open champions, turned the fast concrete courts of Arthur Ashe Stadium into the slow red clay of Roland Garros in a second-round match of long baseline rallies that lasted 3 hours, 49 minutes. The match, which the 10th-seeded Moya won 3-6, 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-3, began Friday night and ended early Saturday with several thousand enthusiastic fans still in the stands. Moya broke Chang’s serve in the next-to-last game and then served out the match. “It is one of the most dramatic matches I have ever played,” Moya said while getting a post-match massage in the locker room. Chang had three match points in the 3rd set on Moya’s serve. That third set lasted 1 hour, 19 minutes. “At that moment, I thought everything was lost,” Moya said of the match points he faced. “But I took more risks than I had before.” A couple of hours later, Moya – the reigning French Open champion – made Chang pay for not converting those match points. “I’m probably going to dream about missed chances,” said Chang, who stood during a postmatch news conference to avoid getting cramps. “In everyone’s career you’re going to have heartbreaking matches.” Chang had only once before blown a two-set lead, to Tim Mayotte in the first round of Wimbledon in 1991 (in that match wasted two match points in the 4th set). “In certain aspects, I’m not going to kid with you and say this is not a tough loss,” said Chang, who has been bothered by a right hamstring injury the past few weeks and had to be treated by a trainer during the match. “It’s been a tough year, but I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to quit and ride off into the sunset.” Chang ended up with 187 total points in the match, while Moya had 186.
Third round: Rob Gloster
Just when you thought all the weird moments at the U.S. Open were limited to the strange, moody teenagers on the women’s tour, Goran Ivanisevic walked in the door. Ivanisevic was smiling, and not just because he defeated Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands, 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-4, in the third round on Saturday. Typically, he handcuffed Haarhuis with a powerful serve, hitting 21 aces. The point was brought home with the biggest upset of the day: Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands defeated sixth-seeded Greg Rusedski of Great Britain, 4-6, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, in the third round. Rusedski, who lost in the Open final to Rafter last year, had won two previous matches saving three match points in total, and saved another three match points before Siemerink aced him on the fourth. Of the top players, Siemerink, 28, is considered one of the three pure serve-and-volleyers on the tour – Rafter and Tim Henman are the others – but that is not his main claim to fame. He is best known for his female impersonations at the annual ATP players’ party at the Monte Carlo tournament. “We have a very good time. No one else is allowed there. I am not a very good imitator,” he said, blushing. “But that’s true.” The world’s top tennis players are doing little work on this Labor Day weekend. Defending U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter needed just 66 minutes and lost only three games in a third-round victory. Andre Agassi advanced while losing just five games. ‘You never feel badly about winning. You want to get on and off as quick as you possibly can,” Rafter said after his 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over David Nainkin. ”This is a Grand Slam. You want to conserve your energy.” Agassi won 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 in 96 minutes over Davide Sanguinetti, who twisted his right ankle late in the 1st set and played the rest of the match with the ankle heavily taped. Agassi, who played third on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court after Rafter and Venus Williams, was shocked to start playing so early in the afternoon. ”Both matches combined were like an hour and 15 minutes, phenomenal,” Agassi said. ”I felt rather rushed, I didn’t enjoy that at all.” Pete Sampras and the rest of the world’s top tennis players are doing little work on this Labor Day weekend. The top-seeded Sampras needed just 78 minutes to defeat Mikael Tillstrom 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 Saturday night to advance to the fourth round of the U.S. Open, and several of his peers spent even less time on court. “I brought my parents here, so I should get a few extra presents,” the 13th-seeded Tim Henman said after his 6-3, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 win over German qualifier Michael Kohlmann. “If I had lost today, my birthday would have been irrelevant,” added Henman, who was not at his best yet persevered through blustery conditions at Louis Armstrong Stadium court. Henman, 24, was pleased with the way he competed through the up and down 2-hour, 31-minute struggle against the last qualifier left in the tournament. Kohlmann, playing his second main-level tournament, barely escaped a defeat in the his last qualifying match which he won 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 over Antony Dupuis. Kohlmann saved a double match point losing 2:5 in the 2nd set… Carlos Moya survived another dramatic 5-setter eliminating a local player as he defeated Jan-Michael Gambill 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4). Gambill was serving at 4:3 (40/15) in the 5th set. On Stadium 3, Oliver Gross defeated “wild card” Geoff Grant 7-5, 6-7(5), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 in 3 hours 37 minutes. Grant almost won the match coming back from a break down in all winning sets. In the 5th set he was 2:4 before winning three games in a row, the last three games took the German though.
Fourth round: (Sports Illustrated)
600th win of his career, Pete Sampras sealed serving 18th ace (never lost his serve) in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win that included a 2 1/4-hour rain break, turning his power lunch with Marat Safin into a late-afternoon snack for the world’s top player. Safin, 18, who wowed crowds at this year’s French Open with a string of upsets en route to the fourth round in his Grand Slam debut, showed off plenty of power, including 10 aces. But he was no match for the steady Sampras. “He’s very talented, but also very young. The first set I couldn’t believe the pace of his serve, I really had a hard time reading it. The talent is there, maybe he just needs to tone it down a little bit,” Sampras said. “He’s 18 years old and he’s got plenty of years to learn from mistakes. My game at 18 was pretty bad.” Two years later Safin will beat with almost identical scoreline in the US Open final… ”Any time you deal with the elements, and curveballs, two players have to deal with it, and I think he dealt with it better than I did,” said the eighth-seeded Andre Agassi after Karol Kucera avenged his loss at the 1996 Olympics with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-7(5), 1-6, 6-3 victory yesterday. Not only did Agassi hate being bumped from Arthur Ashe Stadium by Monday’s storm (at 3:0* for him in the 4th set), but he also hated being upstaged by a fellow who returned better than he did when their cliffhanger resolved itself yesterday. ”I can’t say that I lost it,” Agassi said. ”He definitely stepped it up, and I didn’t respond there in the middle of the fifth when I could have continued to make it tough on him.” Agassi did not reach the quarterfinals in any of the four Grand Slams he played in this year and, despite being two break points from a 3:0 lead in the final set yesterday, saw his record in comebacks from two sets down lapse to 2-5. ”That’s when it slipped away,” he said of that third game. ”The big picture is, yeah, I lost in the Round of 16 at the U.S. Open.” Kucera was close to finish Agassi off in straight sets, but squandered a 4:1* lead in the 3rd set and 5:4 in the tie-break (from 0:4, the Slovak won five consecutive points and thought he should have been awarded with a double match point when Agassi’s forehand landed on the baseline). Agassi, 28, did the same thing last year by becoming the fourth in Patrick Rafter’s string of seven victims. The United States Open’s defending champion, Rafter handled the two-day format better than Agassi did. Like Agassi’s match, Rafter’s fourth-round duel with 14th-seeded Goran Ivanisevic, the Croat ace machine, was delayed by Monday’s monsoon. But unlike Agassi, Rafter coped with the weather interruptions, liked his assignment at Arthur Ashe Stadium and out-hustled Ivanisevic for a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 victory that carried him into the quarterfinals against Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden. ”I didn’t try to concern myself about the different situations at all; I didn’t have a preference either way,” said Rafter, who has a 2-4 record against his next opponent, a semifinalist here in 1997. Besides losing Agassi and 13th-seeded Tim Henman, who was overpowered by Mark Philippoussis, 7-5, 0-6, 6-4, 6-1, the Open also absorbed the premature departure of another disgruntled seeded player, Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia. The French Open’s 1996 champion and seventh-seeded player here was upset, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(6), by 33d-ranked Thomas Johansson of Sweden. ”Maybe it was too much pressure on me,” Kafelnikov said. ”The draw was quite open on my side, and I just haven’t had a situation like that in a long time and didn’t know how to handle it.” Kafelnikov’s situation was quite different from Agassi’s and Kucera’s. At least Kafelnikov knew when and where his fourth-round match would be played. Carlos Moya saved all 15 break points against fellow Spaniard Alex Corretja in a repeat of the Roland Garros 1998 final. Moya won 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-3. Moya won 11th game of the 1st set after 8 deuces (five break points). Oliver Gross, who saved a match point being two sets down in the first round, could repeat this achievement in the fourth round as he fought off three match points in the 3rd set against Magnus Larsson. The Swede kept his composure though, and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 victory. Three Swedes moved to US Open quarterfinals for the first time since 1987.
Quarterfinals: Charles Bricker
Pete Sampras solved the swirling winds in Arthur Ashe Stadium and stayed on course with surprisingly easy victories Wednesday. “With the conditions, it wasn’t fun to play,” Sampras said. “Wasn’t the best of tennis. I got through it. That’s the main thing.” The top-seeded Sampras set up a semifinal match against defending champion Patrick Rafter with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 9 Karol Kucera. Rafter advanced earlier in the day with a 6-2, 6-3, 7-5 win over No. 12 Jonas Bjorkman. “I always remember my losses,” Sampras said referring to loss to Kucera during Australian Open ’98. “He picked me apart down in Australia. I was probably a little bit more on my toes tonight than I was in Australia.” Sampras presented too many problems for Kucera. The top seed had 13 aces and had 48 winners, compared to 27 winners for the Slovakian who eliminated Andre Agassi a day earlier. Two more victories, and Sampras will tie Roy Emerson with 12 Grand Slam tournament singles crowns. He would also match the five U.S. Open titles won by Jimmy Connors. “I’m not going to say I’m going to win every major I play, but I certainly come in here with a very pumped-up attitude,” Sampras said. “Certainly this is what the year boils down to for me, the majors.” Rafter, who had 44 winners and only 14 unforced errors, was too much for Bjorkman, who played in long sleeves on a chilly afternoon made even colder by a 24 mph wind. Rafter used his exceptional speed to control the match, running down Bjorkman’s passing shots and darting to the net for winning volleys. Rafter said he was used to playing in the wind, which he said was like those in Mount Isa, the Australian town where he grew up. “I’ve been brought up in the wind, whether it’s winter or summer it’s very windy conditions,” he said. “I’ve played in that since I’m 10 years old.” Magnus Larsson, who lost, wasn’t surprised. But Carlos Moya, who won, sounded as if he had been sprinkled with fairy dust. “If you tell me at the beginning of the week I’m going to be in the semifinal, I would say you’re crazy,” Moya said. “Even if you tell me I’m going to beat Chang because I was playing so bad, you know. I had no confidence at all. I thought I cannot beat anyone the way I was playing.” But by mid-afternoon Thursday, Moya, who had come from the brink of a second-round defeat to Chang, was in the semifinals of the U.S. Open and feeling worlds better about his chances. His 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory against Larsson was nearly immaculate. He faced only one break point, and Larsson didn’t convert it. That thrusts Moya into a Saturday matchup with Mark Philippoussis, a 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(10) winner over Thomas Johansson in Thursday night’s second quarterfinal. Philippoussis needed tiebreaker in the 5th set to defeat Johansson in a match featuring 50 aces. Philippoussis slammed 30 aces, including 11 in the final set. Johansson had 20 aces and 15 double faults. Philippoussis hit one serve at 132 mph, only to be outdone by his opponent – whose 136-mph serve was the fastest of the tournament. “I got the first serves in when I needed it, I kept the pressure on, and it finally paid off,’‘ Philippoussis said at the end of the 3-hour, 26-minute match. The other quarterfinal lasted just 90 minutes. The Australian saved three match points in the decisive tie-break (5:6, 6:7 & 8:9) – the first one on Johansson’s serve – the Swede made a backhand error, another two match points Philippoussis saved with service winner and ace. The Moya-Philippoussis winner goes to Sunday’s final against the survivor of the Pete Sampras-Patrick Rafter blockbuster, which probably will start at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Who would have thought Moya would make the final of the 1997 Australian Open? He was the first Spaniard to get that far in 28 years. Who would have thought he would win the French Open this year after playing a whopping six clay-court tournaments leading up to Roland Garros – 21 matches in all.
Semifinals: Harvey Araton
A muscle in Pete Sampras‘s tightly wound body thwarted him yesterday, as did the man fast becoming the rival most people have wished for Sampras to have. Hampered by an injury to his left upper leg, Sampras succumbed to Patrick Rafter in a five-set match that had a greater sense of inevitability than a grand sense of climax. Unlike his quarterfinal here two years ago, when he overcame violent stomach spasms to outlast Spain’s Alex Corretja, Sampras was fighting a brave but losing battle this time. The strain of his quadriceps near the hip ultimately kept him from competing on balls hit to his left, and the opponent – the United States Open’s defending champion – was too much the athletic serve-and-volleyer to let an opportunity like this one slip by. Rafter won by 6-7(8), 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3. ”He didn’t look really healthy at all,” Rafter said. ”I thought he might have been sick, but he was still hitting big serves.” The serve was Sampras’s only chance, but it was not enough to prevent his first loss in six Open semifinals. Rafter moved on to face the hard-serving Mark Philippoussis, who ousted Spain’s Carlos Moya, 6-1, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. Thus, two Australians will play in a United States Open final for the first time since Ken Rosewell defeated Tony Roche in 1970, while safeguarding Roy Emerson‘s record of 12 Grand Slam titles from Sampras, at least until the Australian Open next year. ”It’s pretty disappointing, but you’ve got to move on,” Sampras said after walking gingerly into the interview room. ”This U.S. Open is the last major of the year. I’ve got to find some motivation to go to Europe.” Sampras had won the 1st set in a rousing tie breaker, before his net game deserted him and Rafter squared the match. In the 1st game of the 3rd set, Sampras landed awkwardly after a volley, straining the muscle, an injury similar to one he had had before. ”Things were going pretty well to that point,” he said. ”It kind of shocked me a little bit.” After holding his serve for 1:0, Sampras left the court for what was presumed to be a bathroom timeout. But as the set continued, it became apparent that Sampras was laboring, even as he was breaking Rafter in the 4th game on a backhand return down the line off a first serve. His movement became more and more mechanical, and any sudden turn left seemed to bring a grimace. After Sampras held serve for a 5:2 lead, he went off again, and this time did not reappear until the three-minute waiting period was counted off rather deliberately. While Rafter was sitting calmly in his chair, Sampras was receiving frantic treatment from Doug Spreen, the ATP Tour trainer. Massage. Heat. A wrap. Stretching. A pain reliever. It all helped Sampras come back out to break Rafter at 15, Sampras going for the bombs, the short points, as much as he could. ”Any weight on my left side, it was giving me problems,” Sampras said. ‘‘After the injury, I just had to go for it.” The longer the match went on, the worse Sampras looked. He dropped his serve in the 1st game of the 4th set, Rafter knowing that just getting the ball in play, keeping it low, would be too much for his ailing opponent. The courts were playing fast enough to allow Rafter to focus on getting his first serves in, getting to the net, keeping his volley angled, not allowing a stationary Sampras to take big swings. Sampras, whose serving actually improved as the match went on, was unable to win a point against Rafter’s serve until the Australian was serving for the set. By that time, Rafter knew all he had to do was to keep his concentration to insure his second straight Open final. In the 5th set, Rafter again reached break point in the first game, at 30/40, with a backhand pass. Sampras then served out wide, and Rafter sliced his backhand cross court. Not only was he slow covering the net, Sampras did not even bother to step or bend in the direction of a ball he desperately needed to return. The match ended similarly, with an upright Sampras eyeing a Rafter backhand pass up the line. So the Open final will proceed without its four-time champion, whose only consolation is that he will keep the world’s No. 1 ranking. Rafter can pull directly behind Sampras by defeating Philippoussis, whose relationship with Rafter had been strained over Philippoussis’ reluctance to play early-round Davis Cup matches. ”We’ve always been speaking, but, obviously, it wasn’t as warm as it was in the past,” said Philippoussis, who is trying to become the second unseeded player (after Andre Agassi in 1994) to win the Open. Just when it appeared that Philippoussis’ new-found maturity was about to dissipate along with a slew of break-point opportunities, the 21-year-old Australian regained the ability to punctuate his big game with an exclamation point. Philippoussis, one of three players to have recorded a serve over 140 miles an hour, hit 21 aces yesterday, the first of which whistled past Moya at 132 m.p.h. But the more telling number was the 67 percent first-serve percentage that the 6-foot-4-inch, 200-pound Philippoussis got in, winning 63 of those 74 points. He tore through the first two sets in 51 minutes and later admitted he felt like ”no one can beat me.” ”His serve was too good today,” said Moya, who was the first Spaniard to reach the Open semifinals since the tournament switched surfaces from synthetic clay to hardcourt in 1978. In the 3rd set, knowing he had to change tactics, Moya demonstrated that he is more than the standard stay-on-the-baseline Spaniard. He began to attack the net, with success. In the 11th game, after Moya served his way into a 0/40 hole, he managed to save four break points. Philippoussis was clearly upset with himself, and, at 30/30 on his serve, he double-faulted, going for a second serve that was clocked at 117 m.p.h. Then, on set point against him, he went for another big second serve and double-faulted again. ”I’m only 21 years of age,” Philippoussis said, somewhat sheepishly. Though Moya ran a string of 10 consecutive break points saved into the fourth set, Philippoussis got the break he needed in the 7th game when he returned a backhand off a second serve down the line, and Moya hit a lunging forehand volley into the net.
Final: (Sports Illustrated)
Poise and near-perfection. With an awesome display of speed and accuracy, Patrick Rafter proved he belongs as a U.S. Open champion. Rafter made just five unforced errors in the entire match, retaining his title Sunday by winning an all-Australian battle with Mark Philippoussis 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0. The third-seeded Rafter won the final 10 games as Philippoussis’ usually overpowering serve became a liability. The unseeded Philippoussis had just 5 aces and 13 double faults, the last on the final point of the match. Rafter’s victory gave the Open its second consecutive repeat champion. Pete Sampras won in 1995-96. “Now I feel that last year wasn’t such a fluke. Now I can look at people and say I’ve done it again,” Rafter said. “Having the experience last year really helped me in this match. I was very relaxed out there.” It was Aussie Rules tennis in the final, with both players diving to the concrete courts and sending volleys rocketing across the net. But Rafter had precision to go with his power. “I really didn’t do anything that much wrong, except for a few double faults,” Philippoussis said. “Pat hit a lot of passing shots, he made me volley from my shoetops. He was playing great tennis. The guy’s just quick.” Rafter, who had to rally from a two-set deficit in the first round but never was threatened again in the tournament, won $700,000 and moved up to No. 2 in the world rankings – just behind Sampras, whom he defeated Saturday in the semifinals. The match was tied at one set apiece and 2:2 in the 3rd set when Rafter took command. After holding serve, Rafter moved to break point on an incredible point when he raced around the court to return an overhead, a forehand into the corner and a drop shot. He broke Philippoussis’ serve on the next point. Rafter then won the next eight games to close out the match. During changeovers, Rafter thought back to his five-set victory over Hicham Arazi in the first round. “I was thinking to myself, ‘This is not right, I should be at home,'” he said. “I was very lucky and I felt that way the whole tournament, very lucky to be here.” Rafter, looking like a Samurai warrior with a pony tail and a mangy beard that he grew during the tournament, has a game tailor-made for the hard, fast courts and hard, fast balls of the U.S. Open. Philippoussis: “You’ve got to hand it to Pat, five unforced errors for the match. At the moment, he’s playing like the best player in the world.” Philippoussis, in his first Grand Slam final, stayed in the match by saving 13 of 14 break points until midway through the third set, but Rafter converted five of his six break points after that. Rafter faced just three break points in the match and lost his serve only once. His serve was broken only seven times in the seven rounds of the tournament. It was intense tennis from the start. Late in the first set, Rafter tumbled to the court for a shot. When a ballboy brought over a towel, Rafter dried off the court – not himself. Philippoussis made a similar dive later in the match. Though the two players are not close and didn’t speak to each other most of the summer because of a feud centering on Philippoussis’ decision not to play on the Australian Davis Cup team, there was a gentlemanly air to the match. When Rafter made bad service tosses and caught the ball instead of hitting it, he yelled, “Sorry, mate,” across the net. As Australian flags waved in the stands, Rafter captured his sixth title of the year and improved his record to 25-2 since Wimbledon. Rafter appeared to be in trouble just before taking command of the match. In the fifth game of the 3rd set, he was up 40/0 but lost three straight points — slamming his racket to the court after netting a volley to fall to deuce. He came right back to hold his serve, though, beginning his run of 10 straight games. Included in that run was a streak of 12 unanswered points in the 4th set. “After the 2-all game, I think I just showed a bit of emotion there, I was a bit frustrated,” Rafter said. “I just loosened up, and from there I just gained more and more confidence.” Philippoussis was trying to join Andre Agassi as the only unseeded men’s champion in U.S. Open history. Agassi pulled off the feat in 1994. “This is a start of something in my career. I’m only 21 years old. I’m hoping and counting on having many more Sundays in Grand Slams,” he said. “This is just a start for me.” He needed another five years to get the second – and last – major final (Wimbledon 2003). Philippoussis swept to the final with power, blowing opponents off the court with 130-mph serves. Philippoussis’ power was no match for the speed of Rafter, who has won all three of their career matches. The second set was the first Rafter ever lost in their rivalry. “You’ve got to hand it to Pat, five unforced errors for the match,” Philippoussis said. “At the moment, he’s playing like the best player in the world.” Rafter’s 8th title, he had won 24 out of 25 matches at the time.