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Still No. 1— Sampras Virtually Unaffected by Missing Australian Open

February 01, 1999

LONDON (Reuters) — World No. 1 Pete Sampras gambled by missing the Australian Open but it paid off Monday when the new ATP world rankings showed him still on top.

His lead, following the first Grand Slam of the year, has been eaten away from 351 points to just 214, but the statistic that counts remained the same.

Five men had the chance to topple the American when the action started at Melbourne Park two weeks ago but were undone either by lackluster performances or bad luck.

Home hope Pat Rafter fizzled out as early as the third round, losing in four sets to eventual finalist Thomas Enqvist. He could have become the first Australian to top the rankings since John Newcombe in 1974.

World No. 5 and French Open champion Carlos Moya failed to make it past the first round.

World No. 7 Andre Agassi would have had a chance but Moya's defeat meant he could no longer accumulate enough of the bonus points awarded for victories over top 10 players.

Marcelo Rios, second before the Open and now ranked sixth, pulled out with a back injury without striking a ball.
French Open runner-up Alex Corretja fell to unheralded Norwegian Christian Ruud in the second round.
Eventually it was left to Yevgeny Kafelnikov to take the title.

His second Grand Slam victory - the first was the 1996 French Open -- lifted the Russian to No. 3 in the world and he acknowledged Sampras in accepting the trophy.

"My last message is to one person -- Pete," he grinned, "This is a great, wonderful feeling. Thanks for letting me do that."

Sampras finished 1998 as the number one player in the world for a record sixth consecutive time. But the effort of beating Jimmy Connors's record of five straight years in the 1970s took its toll. Trailing around the end-of-season European tournaments to pick up valuable points left Sampras fatigued and unprepared for Melbourne.

With the ranking record under his belt, Sampras is now gunning for Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam titles.
Wimbledon 1998 was his 11th and many players were surprised by his absence in Australia, the first Grand Slam tournament he has missed since the 1992 Australian Open.

After breaking the rankings record, Sampras said: "You need the game, you need the heart and you need the mind. Some guys have two of the three, but to do it for six years you need to have everything."

Sampras's decision to leave Australia alone this year could be the proof that he certainly has the brains.

Wimbledon was his sole Slam success last year and remains his best chance for glory this year.

If Sampras uses the first part of the year to recharge his batteries and build up to Wimbledon in June and the U.S. Open in September, his name could find its way into the history books yet again -- this time as a record Grand Slam winner.

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