The Pete and Patrick Show
Sampras-Rafter semi promises to feel like final
Posted: Friday September 11, 1998 06:25 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- The only thing wrong with Saturday's semifinal showdown between Patrick Rafter and Pete Sampras at the U.S. Open is that it's not for the championship.
Two of the heaviest hitters in tennis meet in a dream match with the winner advancing to the final against the winner of the other semifinal between Carlos Moya and Mark Philippoussis.
The two men's semis are sandwiched around the women's final in a resumption of Super Saturday, a potential of 13 sets of high-tension tennis.
Sampras, a four-time Open winner, is bidding for a 12th Grand Slam championship, which would tie Roy Emerson's record. Rafter won this tournament last year for his first Slam after Sampras was upset in the fourth round by Petr Korda.
The two met at Cincinnati a month ago with Rafter winning the Open tuneup on a controversial match-point call. That defeat stung Sampras, who prides himself on learning from every loss.
"I felt I was playing well enough to beat him," he said. "But he hung in there and played a good match."
That victory, plus Rafter's status as defending champion at the Open, turns up the heat for the semifinal.
"Winning here last year, he's the man to beat," Sampras said. "He's played well. He's breezed through this tournament. He's a great mover, a great athlete, one of the best volleyers in the game. It's just a matter of the return of serve. If I can return well, make him volley, over the course of a four- or five-set match, I can wear him down."
Sampras offered a scouting report on the match.
"We both try to come in," he said. "We play similar. I probably stay back a little more. He's not easy to play. But I know what to expect, and so does he. It is just a matter of who does it better."
The Sampras-Rafter match overshadows the other semifinal between Moya, the French Open champion, and Philippoussis, who never has advanced this far in a Grand Slam tournament.
Moya knows the 21-year-old Australian will pose a major problem.
"He's a very dangerous player, a very good player," Moya said. "He has big potential. He can win any tournament."
Philippoussis knows Moya's strengths.
"The guy's basically not going to miss from the back," he said. "He's going to run everything down."
Sampras is still aggravated by the loss to Rafter at Cincinnati. He has been on a roll, winning 11 straight sets and dropping only one set in his first five matches at the Open.
Rafter has had a harder time. He lost the first two sets in his opening match against Hicham Arazi and was in danger of becoming the first defending champion to go out in the first round before a dramatic rally enabled him to survive. He also dropped a set to Goran Ivanisevic in the fourth round.
Rafter, however, was at the top of his game in the quarterfinals, a straight-sets victory over Jonas Bjorkman.
"I can't play much better than that," he said.
Rafter said the Cincinnati experience gave him confidence against Sampras.
"It helps to know I have beaten him recently," he said. "I won't go on the court feeling as intimidated as I had before. I learned that if I'm playing well, then I can compete. It's a good feeling to know I can do it."
Sampras, thinking about the Slam record, knows Rafter probably is a more difficult obstacle in the semis than either Moya or Philippoussis would be in the final.
"I'm looking forward to Saturday," he said. "It's going to be a good match."
After the tough Cincinnati loss, a frustrated Sampras was asked the difference between him and Rafter.
"Ten Grand Slams," he said.
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