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Hot Sampras Opens heart

January 26, 1997

Newly crowned Australian Open champion Pete Sampras thanked his late coach and mentor Tim Gullikson yesterday for giving him the strength and courage to lift his ninth Grand Slam title.

Sampras, 25, described his Australian Open title as the toughest major he has ever contested after surviving two five-set marathons and energy-snapping conditions to reach his 11th Grand Slam final.

Gullikson's death last year from brain tumours the 25-year-old, who said yesterday that his coach was still his inspiration on the tennis court.

Sampras broke down in tears two years ago at a news conference after learning of Gulllikson's illness during the Open in Melbourne.

"Where it all happened was here in Australia and I thought about it when I woke up today and before the match," he said after his 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Spain's Carlos Moya.

"I'm sure he's looking down very happy that I fought through some tough matches, because that was one thing he instilled in me was attitude, not quitting."

Sampras took a short break from the game following Gullikson 's death.

"Sure it was tough when he passed away," Sampras said. "I didn't want to play tennis, but time heals things and this is a great start to win here and I certainly hope everyone stays healthy around me."

"Tennis is a great game and you love to win every match you play, but ultimately it's not the most important thing in life - that's your health."

"It really woke me up to some things that I have never really had to deal with before. You live every day like it means something."

"He will always be in my mind when I play, especially in moments like today, very tough conditions."

Sampras echoed called for the event to be moved to the cooler month of March. "I would be in favour of that," Sampras said. "A little cooler, I wouldn't mind having more of break in January and February."

Medical experts and many players criticised the timing of this year's tournament which was hit by heatwave conditions.

"This is the toughest major I think I've won so far, physically… and to come through is a good effort," he said.

Temperature soared to about 50C on court over three successive days in the middle of the tournament prompting organisers to close the roof on Centre Court.

Women's world No 1 Steffi Graf needed to treated for heat exhaustion after her shock fourth-round exit and Romania's Irina Spirlea and Sabine Appelmans of the Netherlands were placed on drips after matches.

Sampras' Open campaign very nearly ended in the fourth round against little known Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty who took the top seed to five sets.

"The combination of that (heat) and the court, it just makes it that much hotter…I don't think I've ever played in conditions like I did in that fourth-round match," said Sampras.

Article supplied by Ida Tang



Sampras now has sights on French

January 26, 1997

MELBOURNE, Australia - Pete Sampras felt as if he were slogging through clay - the worst surface for his game. The heavy balls slowed his serve. The heat slowed his feet.

But after he trounced two opponents expected to thrive in such conditions, prospects were looking up for him to capture the one major title that has eluded him - the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay.

On rubbery, medium-speed Rebound Ace courts, Sampras won the Australian Open by beating Spain's Carlos Moya, a rising talent who honed his strokes on clay, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 in an 87-minute final Sunday.

In the semifinals, Sampras beat the "King of Clay,'' Thomas Muster, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.

"To beat these guys in these conditions, I really surprised myself a bit,'' he said.

He kept both under pressure with his serve and volley game and, when he had to, beat them at their strong suit - rallying from the baseline.

Now the French Open is the one that's missing from his collection of nine Grand Slam tournament titles, Sampras noted, and said, "I'll do whatever I can this year to maybe get lucky, like here, and win.''

Sampras said the balls bounce faster at the French, helping his serve, but "clay slows it down a little bit. ... I felt the conditions (here) were pretty similar. It was tough to put the ball away with these balls.''

Still, he said, "I can't think about it too much. I can't put that much pressure on myself to win the French. It's just if it happens, it happens.''

"He's a bit of a marked man now," Sampras made the warning to Moya , who climbed from No. 25 to No. 9 after his meteoric climb in the Australian, where he opened by beating defending champion Boris Becker and reached the final by drubbing No. 2 Michael Chang in the semis.

"It's a little tough to cope with that. But I think he has a good head on his shoulders and I think he will just get better the more matches he'll play, because I think he learned quite a bit playing today,'' Sampras said.

Moya still sees Sampras as the marked man.

"I will be seeded in Paris. That means if I meet (Sampras), it will be in the quarters, the semis or the final. I don't know, but I would like to,'' said the 20-year-old Moya.

Referring to victories in the past year, Moya said: "I beat the best clay court player, Muster, on clay; the best indoor player, Becker, indoors, and I tried to beat the best hardcourt player, as Sampras is.

"I didn't do it, but it is the first time that we met each other. ... Paris will be a good opportunity to try to beat him, not at Wimbledon.''

On Sunday, Moya said Sampras' serve and forehand were too much for him.

Asked the main thing he learned from the match, Moya replied: "Who is the No. 1.''