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Sampras comes up empty again

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 22, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Another tournament turned into one more disappointment for Pete Sampras, whose winless streak now stretches to 21 events.

Marat Safin hurt Sampras with his power game early and then held off a late comeback bid by the Grand Slam king to advance to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (10-8) victory Monday night.

Safin saved two set points in the final tiebreaker before finishing Sampras.

During the 3-hour, 33-minute match, both players were upset by line calls, and the normally reserved Sampras vented his frustration at a spectator at one juncture in the second set.

"I was one point away from tying it up," said Sampras, who is winless since capturing Wimbledon in 2000 for his record 13th Grand Slam tournament title.

He had been favored after the five top-seeded men went out before the third round. That left Sampras and Safin, seeded eighth and ninth, respectively, as the only players with Grand Slam titles still playing. And Safin prevailed, just as he did in the final of the 2000 U.S. Open.

"He played a great match," Sampras said. "He set the tone early, and I got off to a really bad start. ... It's disappointing because I thought the longer the match went on, the momentum was going my way and the crowd got me definitely more into the match."

One quarterfinal matchup that's set has seventh-seeded Tommy Haas, the highest-ranking player still in the tournament, against former No. 1 Marcelo Rios, the 1998 Australian runner-up.

Haas beat No. 11 Roger Federer 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 8-6, and Rios defeated No. 23 Nicolas Lapentti 7-5, 6-1, 6-4.

Sampras struggled through the first two sets against Safin. But after yielding an early break in the third, he rallied to win a tiebreaker, shouting as he charged in for the points that gave him 4-2 and 5-2 leads.

Sampras led 3-0 and 4-2 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, but then netted what he called an easy forehand volley. They stayed on serve until Safin returned a forehand winner down the line.

"Everybody can see my backhand is better than my forehand," Safin said. "This will give me so much confidence in the next round that I will need.

"I didn't want to play a fifth set. Three hours against Pete is too much. He's too dangerous."

Now, Safin said, his championship chances "are growing day by day." He next plays Wayne Ferreira, a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (7-4), 9-7 winner against Albert Costa in a match that stretched 4 hours, 10 minutes.

Sampras said his legs were fine. "I felt like I could have gone on all day, all night," he said.

It was his second consecutive match that finished after midnight.

"I didn't get the breaks that I needed, and he came up with the big shots, the big serves, at the right time," Sampras said.

Safin has been notorious for his temper, and was fined $1,000 after his previous match for shouting at the umpire.

"He's a powerful player and mentally, at times, he can be a little fragile, but tonight he was strong," Sampras said. "He kept his composure when he needed to and played a great match."

It reminded Sampras of the 2000 U.S. Open, "where he was on top of my serve, he was serving big, and he was hitting some great shots.

"I just started to be a little bit more aggressive in the third (set), and taking more chances, and it started to pay off a little bit," he added.

At last year's U.S. Open, Sampras beat Patrick Rafter in the fourth round, Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals and Safin in the semifinals before losing the championship match to Lleyton Hewitt.

Agassi pulled out of this tournament with a wrist injury. Hewitt, weakened by chicken pox, lost in the first round. Rafter has retired.

Of his exchange with the spectator, Sampras said, "I was frustrated the way the match was going and I needed to release it somehow.

When an Australian fan shouted "Yes!" after Sampras faulted in the second set, Sampras turned to the stands and asked who had spoken.

The fan stood up, and Sampras said he "let him know how I felt about" the yelling. It was an unusual display for Sampras, who's generally low-key on court.

Sampras said he was "showing a little personality for you guys out there. You've been waiting for me to do that for 10 years."

After Sampras started talking to the fan, umpire Jorge Dias summoned the player and told him to get on with the match.

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