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Three past champions disposed of by Sampras

September 8, 2001

Two two-time champions Patrick Rafter and Andre Agassi, and the defending champion, all disposed of in succession by a brilliant Sampras. Pete ousted Marat Safin 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 in the semifinal of the US Open, and earned himself a place in the final for the seventh time in his career. He is the first man to ever beat three former champions consecutively at the U.S. Open.

Sampras was ahead right away in the first set, chipping and charging at every second serve the Russian had to offer.

"It's clicking in," Sampras said. "As far as the rhythm, its' there. Obviously my serve is a big part of my game, and if I'm serving well, which I did today, I can be a little more aggressive."

But Safin, was not going to give in. He raised his level in the second set and his confidence grew. He began to make big shots attacking Pete's second serve in return.

"The big part of the match was the second-set breaker," Sampras said. "He started picking up his game in the second set. He started serving huge."

Facing a break of serve near the end of the second set, Sampras benefited when chair umpire Wayne McKewen overruled an out call and awarded him an ace. He converted that by holding his service, extending his streak to 81 service games without being broken.

Trading shot for shot, the two men rolled through the set into a tiebreak. It was familiar territory for Sampras, who played four tiebreak sets in his classic quarterfinal victory over Andre Agassi two nights earlier.

Sampras' 16th ace of the match put him one point away. Safin saved one set point but hit long on the next, giving Sampras the set.

Safin has never come back after losing the first two sets. A double fault put the Russian in trouble in the fourth game of the third set and Sampras converted with a return that just caught the back line. He kissed his racket in appreciation.

Sampras went into overdrive after that. His big serve produced 20 aces, the final one on match point, and he extended his streak of service games without being broken to 87.

The combustible Safin twice complained over calls . one a foot fault, the second a shot that brushed the line. For the most part, he kept his temper under control. He had enough to worry about with Sampras on the other side of the net.

Sampras wanted to make a statement against Safin. A year ago, the Russian beat him in the Open finals for his first and only Grand Slam victory. It seemed as if it might signal a changing of the guard with Safin just 19 and Sampras almost 30.

Meanwhile, Safin struggled this year with injuries, unable to translate his first Slam triumph into any kind of consistency. After winning seven titles last year, he came into the Open without any championships this year.

Sampras' game also seemed in decline this year. He was without a tournament victory since setting the Slam record by winning Wimbledon last year and came into the Open dragging. He had gone 17 tournaments without a victory and was stuck in the toughest quarter of the men's draw.

Pete will play Lleyton Hewitt who demolished Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 in the most one-sided semifinal in U.S. Open men's history.

Against Hewitt, Sampras has a 4-3 series edge. But he knows Hewitt will likely run down every ball, especially with his easy semifinal win.

"Lleyton's a great competitor," Sampras said. "It's like playing Michael Chang. He's an unbelievable mover. He loves a target. He returns well. He passes well... I'm going to be patient, but also stay aggressive. I'm going to have to come in. Hopefully, I can serve well like I did today. It should be a good clash."

With the win, Sampras continues to make his way up the ATP Champions Race 2001 to the No. 8 spot, a big boost from the 19th position he held prior to this year's US Open. If he claims Sunday's final, he will move up to the No. 6 spot and automatically qualifies for the Tennis Masters Cup in Sydney.

Source: AP


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Vintage Sampras Sets Up Open Final Against Hewitt

September 9, 2001

After each toss of the ball, Pete Sampras brandished his racket like a machete, the blade flashing downward in yesterday's afternoon sun. For the past week, Sampras had efficiently cleared his own path to the United States Open final, cutting down former champions in the process.

First, he dispatched Patrick Rafter in the Round of 16. Next, he defeated Andre Agassi in a quarterfinal tie-break duel. And yesterday, Sampras avenged his straight- sets humbling in last year's final, leaving the defending champion, Marat Safin, shifting blankly from side to side in deference.

Fittingly, the 10th-seeded Sampras executed the final blow in this semifinal match not with booming power, but with a deviously severe angle that spun out, at 104 miles per hour, wide of Safin's outstretched right arm. In holding his serve the entire match — for a total of 87 straight winning service games — the four-time Open champion defiantly showed his trademark style in downing the No. 3 Safin, 6-3, 7- 6 (5), 6-3.

"I know the game that I have and this is what I play for," Sampras said, explaining his resurrection at the Open. "It's believing that I still have my game. I feel like playing these great players so early, emotionally I looked at them as finals. And I was pumped up. When I played Pat and Andre, now Marat, I was keyed up. This is what I play for, this is what I do all the training for, for these moments."

At 30, Sampras has belied his age and his string of 17 tournaments without a title since last year's Wimbledon. He is now just one match away from becoming the first man to win at least one major title in nine straight years.

Today, he confronts Lleyton Hewitt, a hungry 20-year-old, in the final. Earlier, the fourth-seeded Hewitt barely had to show his patented fighting spirit, sauntering past Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1, in the worst blowout of a men's Open semifinal.

The final will be a rematch of the 2000 semifinal, in which Sampras eliminated a still-learning Hewitt. Hewitt said he did not take advantage of his chances against Sampras.

"He's got one more year of experience now," Sampras said. "It could be his year. But I feel like I kind of got my game going and it should be a good one."

Safin, who came nowhere close to duplicating his surreal performance in last year's final, shrugged when asked to give advice for Hewitt.

"It's up to Pete and everybody knows, everybody who plays against him, you understand, if Pete is feeling O.K. today and he is happy, you have probably not many chances to beat him," Safin said. "

Sampras had 20 aces, won 82 percent of his first-serve points, and struck 49 winners, 16 coming off his crisp volleys on a chip-and-charge strategy that seemed to unnerve Safin early. In the second set, Sampras successfully fought off three break points, emerging from danger with two aces. He seized the crucial second set in a tie breaker.

"I was just efficient, played a clean match," Sampras said. "It was just a completely different situation than last year. Last year he just zoned against me. But I knew this match was a different year, a different time."

For Sampras, it is as if he has moved back in time. During this Open, he has clenched his fists, yelling with teenage exuberance.

After the late-night. four-tie-break victory over Agassi, he kissed his fist in exultation. Yesterday, he kissed his smoking racket and pointed to his wife, Bridgette Wilson. From the start, Sampras asserted his goal. He got the first break point of the match in the sixth game with a forehand passing shot up the line. And then, in classic Sampras style, he jumped up, twisted around and snapped a backhand overhead volley to take a 4-2 lead in the first set. That would be all he needed to win that set.

Safin, who has yet to win a title in 2000, played well in the second set and seemed to have a chance to break through when Sampras called over the trainer Doug Spreen at 4-3 to administer Pepto-Bismol as a precaution for queasiness. But Sampras did not give in.

Sampras saved set point, serving at 4-5 when the chair umpire overruled a call and allowed his ace into the corner. That point allowed the game to go to deuce, and Sampras eventually won it.

In the tie breaker, Safin hit a long forehand to give Sampras a mini- break at 3-2. Sampras whipped a topspin lob that lofted perfectly over Safin's 6-foot-4 frame and landed safely on the baseline to go ahead, 5- 2. Sampras cracked a 120-mile-per- hour ace to go up, 6-4, and while Safin earned back a point, he seemed befuddled on match point, floating a forehand wide to give Sampras the set.

Sampras' serve was impenetrable in the final set, but he had already done his damage. "I set the tone early. That was a big part of the match," He said.

Sampras is fighting to prove he is not finished, not ready to retire, sentiments he has expressed since the beginning of the tournament when he said a victory would "save his season."

Today he meets a tenacious fighter with a service-return and baseline game. He is anxious to claw his way to Sampras's level.

"I always felt like it was just a matter of time," Hewitt said, and yet was amazed to be in this position. "It hasn't really sunk in yet," he said. Kafelnikov obligingly held the door open for Hewitt, giving him plenty of time to rest.

The first game of the match foretold the two players' afternoons and Hewitt's fortitude. Kafelnikov was up 40-0, but Hewitt came back to win the game. Hewitt had just 15 unforced errors in the three sets and had 25 winners. Nothing seems to faze him, least of yet the controversy he caused in his second-round match against James Blake, where he yelled comments to the chair umpire that some construed as racially insensitive. "I just blocked it out. I didn't want to let something like that blot my tennis game," he said.

Back to Archives - 2001 | News

US Open - Semifinal
Post-Match Interview

Pete Sampras defeats Marat Safin
6-3, 7-6, 6-3

September 8, 2001

Q. What does the word "payback" mean?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it means getting back at someone. But it really didn't cross my mind today. I looked at the way he played last year, it was going to be tough for him to do it again. And I just set the tone early. I mean, that was a big part of the match, was I really set the tone, came in quite a bit, kind of kept him off guard a little bit. Served very well. Served big when I was down a little bit there in the second. Just played a better match than last year. He wasn't quite as on. And it was a good win.

Q. When it was over last year, were you shocked that somebody could do that, keep it up for three sets that way and do that to you?

PETE SAMPRAS: In a Slam final, yes. Slam finals, that's where you have the most pressure. But as a young guy, and your first one, you don't really -- you're not sure, you know, what it all means. I was pretty much blown off the court last year. I mean, he was on fire and, you know, I wasn't quite that fresh in the legs. You just have to accept it. It was one of those days where everything he did was he was on and I wasn't quite there. But in a Slam final, you don't expect to play in the zone. It's youth. It's not feeling the pressure. But you just have to accept it. Last year, I just said, "Too good."

Q. Is Lleyton the same kind of kid that Safin was last year?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, yeah. He's a young guy that is a great player who's going to contend for majors for many, many years. Obviously, his game isn't quite as big as Safin when he's on. He doesn't have quite the 130 mile-an-hour serve. But he serves well for someone his size. What Lleyton has, he's got the quickness, he returns very well, he passes very well, loves a target. And that's my game. I am going to be coming in, and he likes playing that. It's important to stay aggressive but be patient at the same time. And we had a tight match here last year in the semis. He's got one more year of experience now. It could be his year. But I feel like I kind of got my game going and it should be a good one.

Q. You now have played 87 games without a break in serve.

PETE SAMPRAS: Shouldn't have told me that (laughter). Kiss of death.

Q. Do you recall serving better?

PETE SAMPRAS: At Wimbledon one year I think I just lost my serve twice. Easier surface to do it on. But actually, to hold serve as much as I did against Andre, who is the best returner of all time, to keep that going, you know, the serve and the volley, everything's kind of clicking at the right time, and just got to do one more day tomorrow.

Q. You've now beaten the three former champions all in a row. Does that give you the confidence? Are you amazed by that also? Was Andre the turning point?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's a tough draw, I think. Probably the toughest draw I've had in many years. I'm pleased. I'm not surprised. I mean, I know the game that I have and this is what I play for. But emotionally, I looked at Pat and Andre as finals. You know, and I can't tell you how big it was having two days off after Andre, just to emotionally and physically just kind of shut it down for a day, and then have Friday to kind of regroup for today. It was huge. It's obviously a tough turnaround here, playing Lleyton tomorrow at four. It's the Super Saturday CBS contract, you know (laughter). Got to pay for the prize money. Tonight's just a good night to kind of drink a lot of liquids, eat the right foods and recover as best I can.

Q. On the same subject, Lleyton Hewitt said that you all played the late match last year. He thought on Sunday that might have taken something out of you. Did you feel that last year?

PETE SAMPRAS: A little bit. It was a tough match against Lleyton. Pretty humid day. Not to take anything away from Safin and the way he played but, you know, it's a tough turnaround, to play a tough four-setter, come back the next day and expect to be fresh in the legs. Lleyton's going to be very fresh tomorrow. He's had a pretty easy day. Physically, I feel fine. But it didn't help last year. But I think no matter what I -- how well I would have fought against Safin, the way he was playing, I think would have been tough to beat him anyway.

Q. You were just talking about how young guys don't know when they're in the first final the pressure they're under. What does it mean now for you to be back here?

PETE SAMPRAS: It's a great feeling. You definitely appreciate it as you get a little bit older. I'm very pleased. I've gotten through a very tough draw. I've worked hard to get here. It would be nice to finish it off and try to win it. I know it's not going to be an easy match. Lleyton's going to make me work very hard.
So it's been a good run. And I got hopefully one more match in me.

Q. Were you feeling a little queasy in the second set? Did the trainer have to give you anything?

PETE SAMPRAS: Nothing really. Just a little something that I had to take care of (smiling). Good answer, huh (laughing)?

Q. You say you haven't had this tough a draw. When did you ever have a tougher draw than this? Was it Australia that time?

PETE SAMPRAS: I remember at the French one year I played Bruguera in the second round and backed it up against maybe Todd Martin, played Courier. I don't remember. That was a tough draw. But this, I think, beats it all, having played three champions, three guys, especially Pat and Andre - I think we looked at those two guys as being the two guys to beat. And certainly Safin being the defending champion, he was going to be one of the threats.
It's been a lot of hard work.

Q. You would think a great champion could put his focus together and play a great match in the zone in the final. Now you've said a couple times that it's very hard to be in the zone in the final.


Q. Could you explain just why.

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, you're dealing with nerves. You're dealing with playing a great opponent. It's just tough to get in that zone. It's only happened to me really a couple times. I mean, it's just dealing with a little bit of pressure, you're not quite as relaxed and loose. But it can happen. It's tough to get in the zone at all. You know, it happens once every couple months. You know, tomorrow, hopefully I can find that. It won't be easy, though.

Q. With the exception of last year's final, Marat said "It's up to Pete, you know, who wins the match." Last year, Marat said he could have beaten God on that day. He doesn't understand how he got through it. But was there a time in your career that it was that simple, it's up to you, whether you're winning or that person's losing? How do you compare that to now?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, well I think last year was the first time I think it's ever happened that I couldn't do anything. And I feel like when I play most guys, if I'm playing well, I should come through. I think last year, no matter how well I played, because he possesses a very, very big game. Anyone that can serve 130 in the corners, there's not much you can do. The way he was returning and passing, I was a bit overwhelmed there. You know, Lleyton will give me a little bit more time to play, and a different type of player, but he's got a lot of strengths. He's got that competitiveness. He's got that quickness. Loves a target, like I said. So it should be a good clash.

Q. Did you ever get the feeling in the second set that it was coming back to Safin?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, second set he was on fire. Really picked up his serve. You know, I was working a lot harder on my second set service games, down 15-30, 30-all points. He just picked it up. He just kind of was serving at love many games, and it's a lot of pressure to play under on your service games. Tiebreaker, surprised he missed that easy forehand. But it was a big part of the match, winning that second set.

Q. How long did it take you to come down after the win over Andre, both emotionally and physically?

PETE SAMPRAS: You enjoy it for about a half a day. You know, you just -- you know, I saw the match on USA and, you know, you relive it a little bit. You enjoy it. But come Thursday night, Friday morning, it's time to kind of refocus, reenergize yourself to get back for Saturday. But having that extra day, it really saved me.

Q. Does that concern you, that you don't have it for tomorrow at all?

PETE SAMPRAS: This is what we're dealt with. It was nice winning in straight sets. You know, that definitely helped. You know, playing a five-setter a day before a final would have been tough. But, I mean, I managed to get it done reasonably quick.

Q. What do you do to prevent a letdown tomorrow?

PETE SAMPRAS: As you can see, just with the way I am right now, I'm ready to get out of here, you know (laughter). Nothing personal, but you don't have time to let down now. It's one more match, and you let it all hang out and do the best you can. You know, tonight's a big night to kind of -- to enjoy it a little bit, getting to the finals. But you always look ahead. You look ahead to having a chance here to win another Slam, and it's a tough turnaround. But it is what it is. You know, nothing we can do about it but recover and get back ready.

Q. What do you think it says about Lleyton's mental toughness that he's been able to put aside this controversy over the past ten days and still get through to a final?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, great effort, having to deal with some off-court stuff and to come through. He's a very, very tough young man. Mentally, he's about as strong as you're going to find in the game, and really fights hard. I'm not surprised that he's here. He's had a great, great match today. Beat Kafelnikov pretty easily. He's going to be feeling very fresh.

Q. Why do you think it's all come together for you here? What makes this happen?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, playing well.

Q. But why?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, why do you think? I mean, it's not like I just started playing last week.

Q. No, but it's built to this, right here, right now. Why has that happened?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, it's, you know, believing that I still have my game. And I feel like, you know, playing these great players so early, emotionally, I looked at them like finals. And I was pumped up. I mean when I played Pat and Andre, now Marat, I was keyed up. This is what I play for, this is what I do all the training for, are for these moments. And that's where I'm at in my tennis.

Q. As much as you know you've still got your game, presumably there's a difference between your state of confidence and mental attitude and stuff today as opposed to two Saturdays ago. Can you characterize how differently you're feeling mentally?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, second week of a Slam, that's historically when I kind of raise it a level. You know, I had to do it much earlier having played Pat, you know, on Sunday or Monday, was it? And I was forced into playing great players early. And maybe that's helped me out here. And, you know, you get into a certain rhythm. As you can see, it's starting to click here at the right time. You know, but that being said, you can't really rely on that tomorrow. It's a new day. Hopefully I can kind of get my game going and put some pressure on him and get through it.


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