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Wimbledon Warm-up Too Hot for Sampras

June 18th 2000 found six-time Wimbledon Champion Pete Sampras unable to reproduce his best form and retain his Queen's Club title when he met Australian Lleyton Hewitt in the Final. In the traditional warm-up for the only remaining Grand Slam played on grass , the teenager from Adelaide appeared to be quite at home on a sultry centre court, taking the title in straight sets, 6-4 6-4.

Sampras's route to the Final was uneven, but not untypical of his early season forays on grass. It took him three sets in his first match to find his range and dismiss Britain's Arvind Parmar, but he was much sharper when seeing off Michael Llodra of France 6-1 7-6 (2). In the quarter-finals he beat fellow American Bob Bryan 6-4 6-4, but did not have things all his own way. Although Sampras broke in the opening game of each set, Bryan's fine serving kept him in the match for a time. He beat Sampras's ace count eight to seven and the defending champion needed four match points to close him out. The resistance was admirable but the outcome never seriously in doubt. In fact Sampras viewed it rather as part of a useful work-out

"It's a great preparation. You hope you can get a lot of matches in this week, but it's a bonus if you can win it," Sampras said. "That's why I'm here. Then I'll have a couple of days off and begin hitting at Wimbledon in midweek and just prepare and practice hard. It's totally different playing matches under pressure, and that's what this week has given me, serving for the match at 5-4. These are moments I'm going to have for the next couple of weeks."

In the meantime, Sampras advanced to the Final of Queen's Club by beating Davide Sanguinetti 7-5 6-3. But it was not as convincing as it should have been. Despite his declaration the previous day that his game was "right where I want it to be", it took eight match points to dispense with the Italian's challenge. Sampras conceded that the win was not one of his best.

"I didn't play all that well," he said. But it's grass court tennis and it was a good match to get through. I'll need to serve a little bit better against Hewitt though."

Unfortunately for Sampras, on the day it needed rather more than. The young challenger asked all the right questions but the 1999 champion was unable to come up with the answers. The win gave Hewitt revenge for his three-set loss to Sampras in the semi-finals of Queen's last year. The Wimbledon Champion's next chance to cut the grass from under Hewitt's feet may well be at the All England Championships.


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