Sampras-Rafter match will feel like a final
Posted: Thursday September 10, 1998 11:54 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Pete Sampras stands on the cusp of history in the U.S. Open. Patrick Rafter, the defending champion, stands in his way.
In what promises to be the showcase match of a tame tournament that so far has provided few surprises or dramatic battles, Sampras and Rafter meet in a men's semifinal that will have the feel of a final.
The last 11 days have seemed little more than a setup for Saturday's match, which features two of the best serve-and-volleyers of their generation. It pits the hottest players in men's tennis against each other.
And it could provide revenge for Sampras -- not only against an opponent who defeated him a month ago in Cincinnati, but also against critics who had written him off as an over-the-hill champion.
"It's time, this is the U.S. Open, this is the big moment of the year for me," Sampras said. "This is what the year boils down to for me."
Mark Philippoussis won a thrilling tiebreaker in the fifth set to defeat Thomas Johansson late Thursday night in a match featuring 50 aces, setting up an encounter with Carlos Moya in the other semifinal.
Philippoussis slammed 30 aces, including 11 in the final set, in his 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 7-6 (12-10) win over Johansson, who had 20 aces and 15 double faults. Philippoussis hit one serve at 132 mph, only to be outdone by his opponent -- whose 136 mph serve was the fastest of the tournament.
"I got the first serves in when I needed it, I kept the pressure on and it finally paid off," Philippoussis said at the end of the 3 hour, 26 minute match.
The other quarterfinal lasted just 90 minutes.
No. 10 Moya, who won this year's French Open and was a finalist at the Australian Open, made just 15 unforced errors in a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win over Magnus Larsson. Moya faced only one break point in the match, and never lost his serve.
Until this year, Moya was known mostly as a clay-court player. His results at the Australian and U.S. Opens show how he has developed into a top player on all surfaces.
"I grew up on clay, so I think I'm always going to have the game on clay," Moya said. "If you ask me right now, I prefer hard. If you ask me two weeks ago, I prefer clay."
The women's semifinals are set for Friday, with top-seeded Martina Hingis facing No. 3 Jana Novotna and an all-American match between No. 2 Lindsay Davenport and No. 5 Venus Williams.
When Sampras lost in the second round of the French Open in late May, the whispers about the end of his reign atop men's tennis became louder. His stretch as No. 1 briefly had been broken earlier in the year by Marcelo Rios, and Sampras appeared vulnerable for the first time in years.
But he won a record-tying fifth Wimbledon title in July, and is within two victories of two more records - Jimmy Connors' mark of five U.S. Open titles and Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam singles titles.
Sampras, who will remain No. 1 in the world no matter what happens the rest of this tournament, has not lost in a Grand Slam semifinal since 1996 at Wimbledon.
Rafter had lost eight consecutive times to Sampras before beating him in the final of an ATP Tour event in Cincinnati in mid-August, a match that ended with a disputed call. Rafter's serve was called out, but the umpire overruled the call to give Rafter the ace and the match.
Sampras stood at the baseline for several seconds, making the victorious Rafter wait at the net, and then refused to shake the umpire's hand.
Rafter said that win will change his attitude heading into Saturday's semifinal.
"I won't go on the court feeling as intimidated as I had before," he said. "But Pete is a different kettle of fish altogether. I had a great win last year. He's done it for the last six years."
Rafter, whose speed will be pitted against Sampras' power, had to rally from a two-set deficit in the first round against Hicham Arazi. Since then, he has dropped just one set in four matches.
Rafter is trying to become the sixth man of the Open Era to successfully defend a U.S. Open singles title. That's an accomplishment that would impress even Sampras.
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