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Big matchups are coming too early


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 5, 2001

NEW YORK -- From a fan's perspective, it is an absurdity of the draw, even more ridiculous than the fact the hottest women's players, Jennifer Capriati and Venus Williams, won't have a chance to meet in the U.S. Open final.

Tonight's quarterfinals match between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi is worthy of a Saturday or Sunday on CBS, not a Wednesday night on USA. Yet the players don't seem to mind.

"If it's possible for a player to have a "can't lose,' it would be a match like that," Agassi said. "I mean, you go out there, you give it all you've got. If you win, you've done something pretty incredible. ... If you lose, you know you were part of something, part of a challenge. ... It's just a great, great night for tennis."

Sampras brought this on himself (and everyone else), earning the 10th seed after a winless and lackluster season. Yet he appeared to recapture some of his magic, not to mention his backhand, in a four-set win Monday against sixth-seeded Patrick Rafter.

He'll need it against Agassi, the No. 2 seed who has dropped one set in four rounds and overwhelmed 13th-seeded Roger Federer on Monday. Sampras leads the series 17-14, but Agassi has won the past three.

Under the lights at the Open, Sampras never has lost (16-0), while Agassi is 19-2.

"It's going to be hopefully a classic that we can all remember," Sampras said. "It's a pick-'em match. ... I think it's going to come down to how well I serve, and how well he returns."

LOBS: Based partly on the way he handled himself during the Lleyton Hewitt controversy last week, American wild-card entry James Blake (No. 95 in the world) is a strong candidate to play in the Davis Cup semifinals later this month, reports John McEnroe, whose brother is Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe. ... No. 7 seeds Martina Navratilova and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario fell in doubles to unseeded Sandrine Testud and Roberta Vinci 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: "You guys didn't talk about me for the first 10 days. That seems to me (the) ideal situation. ... Just keep not writing any articles so I can wake up the remaining days ... and see myself not in the pictures." -- seventh-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov, after a straight sets victory over No. 12 seed Arnaud Clement.

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