Dancing Down Under
Philippoussis, Rafter to face off for U.S. Open title
Posted: Sunday September 13, 1998 01:15 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- History will have to wait. It's all Australia in the U.S. Open men's final.
Defending champion Patrick Rafter, playing smart, aggressive tennis, wore down a hobbled Pete Sampras and moved into the finals of the U.S. Open with a 6-7, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory on Saturday.
It was the first time Sampras had lost a U.S. Open semifinal in six tries.
That set up an all-Australian final Sunday, with Rafter facing unseeded Mark Philippoussis, who defeated Carlos Moya 6-1, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in the other semifinal.
The last time two Australians played for the U.S. Open crown was 1970, when Ken Rosewall defeated Tony Roche, who is Rafter's coach.
Rafter, his pony tail dancing as he ripped shot after shot at Sampras, wore the top-ranked man down and finished him off with a backhand shot that whistled past the four-time Open champ.
The Australian had 55 winners and just 22 unforced errors in the five sets. Sampras finished with 16 aces but the same number of double faults.
Sampras, gunning for a record-tying 12th Grand Slam championship, had revenge on his mind after losing to Rafter on a disputed ace at match point in Cincinnati three weeks ago.
He complained bitterly at the call and was still angry after the match, when he was asked the difference between himself and Rafter and snapped: "Ten Grand Slams."
They looked much closer than that on Saturday, with Rafter, encouraged by the win in their last meeting, keeping the pressure on the world's No. 1 player. Rafter had said he was always intimidated by Sampras before, but that was no where in evidence at the Open.
Even after Sampras won the first set on a tiebreaker at 10-8, Rafter stayed on top and gained the first break of the match in the third game of the second set.
It wasn't until 1 hour, 43 minutes into the match that Sampras finally got a break point in the fourth game of the third set. He converted but shortly after that, he came up limping, favoring his left leg after a backhand volley return.
Leading 5-2, he took an injury time out and had his upper left thigh massaged and wrapped. He returned to finish out the set 6-2 but was favoring the leg.
Now Rafter came right after him, using service breaks at the start of both the fourth and fifth sets to take control. Sampras battled gamely but was hobbling on several points.
The final turning point came in the fifth set, when Rafter, protecting the early break, came to the net and turned back three straight pointblank shots by Sampras, who finally hit wide to surrender the point.
"I wasn't quite sure what was wrong with him," Rafter said. "He kept serving big serves."
Philippoussis followed his quarterfinal great escape with one of the most dominant performances of his career to beat French Open champion Carlos Moya Saturday and advance to the final of the U.S. Open.
"It feels great. I played some great tennis today," said the 21-year-old Philippoussis after reaching his first career Grand Slam final with an overpowering 6-1 6-4 5-7 6-4 victory over the 10th-seeded Spaniard.
Philippoussis's serve was explosive and on target 67 percent of the time and his volleying showed much improved control and consistency throughout the two hour match.
The Australian launched 21 aces and piled up an amazing 75 total winners. Even his second serve was averaging better than 100 mph.
"First of all, he played a great match," said Moya, the 1997 Australian Open runner-up who made his Grand Slam breakthrough at Roland Garros this year.
"His serve was unbelievable. I got close to a fifth set but his serve was just too good today," Moya said.
Philippoussis could easily have suffered a letdown after surviving three match points in a titanic quarter-final struggle against Swede Thomas Johansson late on Thursday night.
He also had every right to be exhausted following his nerve racking but fantastically exciting 12-10 fifth-set tie-break victory, especially toiling in the hot summer weather that returned to the National Tennis Center Saturday.
Instead, that trial by fire seemed to spark Philippoussis, who picked up right where he left off, his intensity level at fifth-set peak from the outset, while Moya, who sailed through his quarter-final much earlier Thursday, looked flat and out of it.
For much of the first two sets, Philippoussis made Moya look like a target at a shooting gallery, the Australian firing bullets as the Spaniard shuffled helplessly from one side of the court to the other to face the stunning firepower.
Over those first two sets, Philippoussis had 10 aces and 35 winners compared to eight winners for Moya and just one in the first set.
"I put the pressure on him, he felt the pressure," said Philippoussis.
In the third set Moya was forced to change his game, as he attempted to get back into the match by attacking net with limited success.
The Spaniard, who did his own Houdini act earlier in the Open when he fended off three match points against Michael Chang before surviving in five sets, saved four break points in the 11th game of third set to keep Philippoussis from serving for the match.
The Australian then gave Moya a huge break by coming up with consecutive double faults to hand the 10th seed the third set.
Again Philippoussis avoided a perfect time to suffer a let down, holding his first three service games with the loss of just two points, while Moya had to stave off three more break in the fifth game.
The 22nd-ranked Philippoussis came up with the key service break of the fourth set for a 4-3 lead in a game in which the Spaniard was rattled by three foot fault calls.
Philippoussis double-faulted away his first match point in the final game and Moya came up with a stinging forehand passing shot to save the second. On the third, however, the Australian followed a big serve with a backhand volley winner to move into the final brimming with confidence.
"I feel great out there. I do feel unbeatable," Philippoussis said.
"If I serve the way I am, volley the way I am, it's going to be tough to break me."
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