The aging legend refuses to pass the torch, dominating Andy Roddick in straight sets.
By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002
NEW YORK -- Rising star Andy Roddick was not quite ready for prime time. Aging great Pete Sampras was not quite ready to fade away.
And thus, the torch was not quite ready to be passed.
In somewhat of a shocker Thursday night before 21,879 at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 31-year-old Sampras, seeded 17th and written off by many, played his best tennis of the year in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, crushing the talented Roddick 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 and keeping alive his hopes of winning a fifth Open title.
Sampras improved to 20-0 in night matches here.
"That's a good stat," Sampras said. "I love it at night in New York. It's awesome."
The 13-time Grand Slam singles champion next plays No. 24 seed Sjeng Schalken, a 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 winner over No. 28 Fernando Gonzalez, in one Saturday semifinal. Top-ranked and top-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, last year's champion, faces two-time Open winner Andre Agassi in the other.
Sampras lost both previous meetings with the 11th-seeded Roddick in straight sets, but dominated Thursday from start to finish, polishing the 20-year-old off in 90 minutes. At times, it looked as if Sampras were playing an unseeded qualifier, not the person many believe will be the next great American male.
"Trust me, I'm 31," Sampras said. "I feel it at times. But I played really well tonight. There were really no complaints the way it went. I felt pretty strong out there."
Sampras won 86 percent of his first serve points, 47 of 60 net approaches and led in aces 13-8. The most telling, and unbelievable, statistic: Sampras had 43 winners (many on volleys) to Roddick's 18, a clear sign his game was on.
"You guys say Pete is washed up," Roddick said. "I've never said it. I don't think many of the players doubt his capabilities. He's had maybe some subpar performances, but I don't think anybody doubts the fact that he's capable of great tennis."
Roddick started slow and never got in synch. His serve, considered to be among the best in tennis, was broken in the second game of the first set, twice more in the second set and once in the third, as Sampras converted four of six break-point attempts. Roddick came up empty in his lone break chance.
"I got off to a great start tonight and kind of set the tone early," Sampras said. "Andy wasn't quite at the top of his game. Tonight, he seemed a little bit ... not quite as emotional as he usually is."
At times, Roddick's youth showed. More than once, he complained about a call to the chair umpire. And he shook his head several times throughout the match in frustration.
"It's always fun for me to play," Roddick said. "Disappointing, yes. But it's a learning experience. I'll try my best to soak it up. I think I'll have my moment here some day."
Schalken, an unheralded Dutchman who never had advanced past the third round of the Open, took advantage of Gonzalez's 12 double faults and 73 unforced errors. Gonzalez was playing in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal and bidding to become the first Chilean to reach the Open semifinals.
"My name is between three very big players," Schalken said. "It feels very good."
If Sampras defeats Schalken, he will head to the Open final for the eighth time, including three consecutive years. He is 4-0 against Schalken (all on hardcourt surfaces), but the two have not played since 1998, when Sampras was in the prime of his career and consistently playing like he did Thursday.
After Sampras' quarterfinal win, as the crowd stood on its feet, Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days was played, which seemed fitting.
"This is what I play for," Sampras said. "These are big moments, playing Andy in a night match. He's the young up-and-comer that has a great future."
For now, though, all eyes are on Sampras.