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August 21, 1998


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Paes dumps Sampras

Shailesh Soni

Leander Paes There were three upsets to choose from in round three of the Pilot Pen International hardcourt tournament, but the one involving world number 100 Leander Paes and world number two Pete Sampras was easily the highlight.

The top three seeds -- Pete Sampras, Patrick Rafter and Petr Korda in that order-- all crashed out in the third-round on a dramatic day.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras lost 6-3, 6-4 to India's number one Leander Paes.

Frenchman Guillaume Raoux meanwhile ousted U.S. Open champion Rafter 7-6 (10-8), 6-3, while Bohdan Ulihrach beat fellow Czech Korda 7-6 (8-6), 6-3.

Leander had his inside-out forehand working lethally in the first set, and the running forehand working on song in the second set.

As Leander himself said before the tournament, his service was working smoothly again. He broke his own personal service speed record with a 120 mph one down the middle in this match. His previous best was 118 mph against Pioline at the US Open last year.

Leander constantly troubled Sampras with his quickness and placements, breaking him in the 6th game of the first set to go up 4-2. He was down three break points, at 0-40, in the next game, but went on to serve it out and take the first set 6-3.

In the second set, Paes took Sampras to deuces at 1-1 and 2-2, and then faced break points on his own serve at 2-3. But again, he held on to his nerve, and evened it to 3-3. Paes then faced a break point on serve at 3-4, but survived that one as well.

Then came an all out battle, with Paes taking the honours by breaking Sampras for a 5-4 lead. The Indian then came up with 3 aces in a row to ice the game, set, and match.

Coming into this tournament, Pete Sampras was on a mental edge, following his defeat at the hands of Patrick Rafter the previous Sunday. The final point of that game was a Rafter ace, called out by the line judge before the umpire overruled the call and made it good.

An agitated Sampras had protested at the time and, earlier in this tournament, said the incident still weighed heavily on his mind.

In this game, Sampras again seemed hassled by a reversed call by the umpire at deuce on Leander's serve in the 7th game of the first set. The world number two kept muttering at the umpire and lost focus for a while.

Sampras also did not seem to have the speed in his legs that he needed. His usually impeccable serve was also not on song, with Leander actually out-acing Sampras 7-4 in the match.

The win gives Leander 26 more tournament points, plus a 45 point bonus for beating the world number two -- a total of 71 points from the match, and 119 overall in the tournament thus far, for having in earlier rounds dumped the higher ranked Marc Rosset in round one and followed it up with an upset of former French Open champ Sergei Bruguera in round two.

The points he has gained thus far should see him make a qualititative leap, to somewhere between 77-70 in the ATP rankings when they are released next Monday.

Leander was ranked number 162 in March with over two-thirds of his 280 points to be defended over. From that point on, he has been on a roll, in the process taking his first ever career singles title at the Hall of Fame championships last month.

In the quarterfinals to be played today, he meets eighth seed Goran Ivanisevic, ranked 16 this week on the ATP.

In their personal head to head, the two players stand at 1-1. They first clashed in the Davis Cup in 1995, when Leander beat Ivanisevic in a massive five-set battle, 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-1.

The next was a 7-6, 6-3 win by Ivanisevic in 1997 at the Queensland tournament, again on grass.

"I felt very flat. Playing three weeks in a row has taken its toll emotionally. You can't afford to be flat in this league," said Sampras, who plans to return home to Orlando, Florida, to recharge for the U.S. Open.

"Losing before the Slams is not as bad as losing in the Slam," Sampras said.

"Losing is not good for the confidence, but I know that by the time the U.S. Open comes along, I'll be ready," said Sampras.

Paes, who won the doubles title here last year in tandem with friend and partner Mahesh Bhupathi, said his strategy was to 'chip and charge' and get to the net.

"I think that he served under-par today, and that allowed me to get to the net," said Paes.

"My main thing was to take the match to him. If you let Pete Sampras dictate the match, you pretty much have no chance," he said.

Ironically, after winning his Hall of Fame title, Paes had opted out for a while, preferring to practise. And in Florida, his hitting partner was none other than Sampras himself.

It was after one such practise session that Paes injured himself with a fall in the dressing room, and the resulting pain around the rib cage has seen him off colour the last three weeks. He, however, returned full steam -- ironically, against Sampras himself.

However, the euphoria of the singles win was somewhat diluted later the same evening, when the top seeded "Indian Express" doubles pair of Leander Paes/Mahesh Bhupathi lost in the second round.

The Indians went down 3-6, 3-6 to the unseeded pair of Wayne Arthurs and Peter Tramacchi.

After the match, Leander said that "He was a bit down".

Curiously, history repeated itself here. Every time the Indians are seeded to meet the Australian ace pair of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in a final, one of the two combos suffers an early exit.

Leander and Mahesh now have to do some hard work in doubles having failed to defend two titles in a row. They have more points to defend at the US Open, and the next two tournaments they play after the US Open are the Singapore open and Beijing open where they have titles to defend.

Rafter, whose loss snapped a career-high 11-match winning streak, including victories in his last two tournaments, said he also felt drained.

"You can lose to anyone any given day," said Rafter, the tournament's No. 2 seed and the third-ranked player in the world.

The losses will help Chile's Marcelo Rios hold onto his No. 1 world ranking if he makes it to the semifinals this week in Indianapolis. If he does not, Sampras returns to the top spot from his current No. 2 ranking.

Raoux, the tournament's No. 16 seed, is ranked 48th in the world. He used a strong baseline game, consistently passing Rafter at the net and effectively stopping Rafter from volleying sharply.

"He was really too good for me today," said Rafter, who dropped a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker. "There was no way to really penetrate him."

Raoux said Rafter seemed focused on defending his U.S. Open title.

"My coach said, `He has to take a break before the U.S. Open, why not today?'" he said.

The Ulihrach-Korda match was the third meeting between the two, but the first since 1996. Going into Thursday's match, Korda had 2-0 edge, beating his countryman on both clay and hardcourt. Ulihrach advances to play defending Pilot Pen champ Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Kafelnikov beat Gustavo Kuerten 6-4, 6-4, in part by avoiding the Brazilian's powerful backhand.

Kafelnikov had won the French Open in 1996, and lost last year to Kuerten in Paris when he took away the clay court title.

"I'm glad I'm still on a roll, we'll see what happens," Kafelnikov said.

Additional input: UNI

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