History Waits on Sampras as Rafter Cast in Spoiler's Role

Published July 8th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

When they come to write a definitive history of tennis, they'd better leave a sizeable appendix to list all Pete Sampras' achievements, especially if he sees off Aussie crowd-pleaser Patrick Rafter in Sunday's Wimbledon singles final 

Champions come and champions go, but precious few have made the tournament their own the way that the 28-year-old from Washington DC has done with six wins to his credit in the past seven years - and a seventh within his grasp, as well as 62 career titles to date. 

But it's not just about history in the making on a patch of turf that will be forever southwest London - because Sampras will kill two historical birds with one stone if he can beat the 12th-seeded Queenslander, cast in the role of spoiler. 

Another trophy will do far more than merely bring him level with William Renshaw, star of the Victorian era in an age where challenge rounds easily enabled champions to walk off with more spoils. 

It will give Sampras a 13th Grand Slam title - leaving him out on his own in history as he currently shares the record on 12 with Australian great Roy Emerson. 

Sampras has been waiting for this moment with bated breath after enduring his annual - almost ritual - French Open humiliation on the slow clay of Roland Garros and that title seem set to elude him permanently. 

No matter, because even if US rival Andre Agassi completed the set last year in Paris, the shaven-headed Las Vegan will not get the chance to gain revenge for Sampras' victory here 12 months ago because an inspired Rafter got in the way in a wonderful five-set semi-final. 

Sampras had it slightly easier as he followed Rafter and Agassi onto his 'second home' of Center Court to end the dreams of qualifier Vladimir Voltchkov of Belarus in straight sets. 

Rafter, who turned the tables on Agassi after losing last year's semi to the same player, will be playing only his third Grand Slam final - but he's done alright so far with two successes in the US Open. 

And having shown Agassi the door, just as he did three years ago at Flushing Meadow, Rafter will be bidding to become the first Australian to win the crown here since Pat Cash 13 years ago. 

Sampras' level of experience is, however, on a different plane to that of the 27-year-old Queenslander. 

The American will be playing in his 15th Grand Slam final and to date he has lost just two - the 1995 Australian Open final and the 1992 US Open. 

Despite his recent shin and problems he is ready for the challenge. 

"I'm ecstatic to be in the final - but it won't be easy. It's been a struggle but I'm still here," said Sampras alluding to his shin injury suffered in the second round on the way to defeating Karol Kucera. 

"At this stage of my career this is what I'm playing for. It means a lot. I just know this is my last match - mentally that feels good. 

"You just let it all hang out, just go out there and not think about it," said Sampras, saying thoughts of the record had to be put to the back of his mind. 

"The adrenaline and the occasion can really get you through a lot of tough situations on court." 

Rafter, like Sampras, has had his injury scares and has had a long road back after arthroscopic shoulder surgery last autumn. 

But against Agassi it looked as if that was all behind him. 

"It's been a long road back - I think that's the most satisfying part about it. I want to go ahead with the job and put in my best on Sunday," he said. 

"Against Pete you've really got to take your chances - you've got to get his serve back somehow. 

"We've had some great battles and he's won most of them. But I have had my couple of wins over him. I've just got to try to be relaxed." 

Sampras has beaten Rafter in nine of 13 previous meetings - but they have never met on grass. 

The two finalists fell out for a while after the Aussie beat Sampras in Cincinnati two years ago and was then quoted as saying that "it's always nice to beat Pete. I get an incredible amount of enjoyment from being on top of him in a match and pretty well just annoying him." 

But Sampras said that any problem between the two was history - that word again. 

"It's over and done with - there's no sense talking about it - (AFP) 


© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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