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Rafter, Sampras feel the pain
Posted: Wednesday September 01, 1999 02:02 PM
FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. (Reuters) -- Patrick Rafter's bid for a third consecutive U.S. Open title ended abruptly Tuesday night when he retired with a sore shoulder from his first-round match with Frenchman Cedric Pioline.
After Pioline forced a fifth set and broke Rafter to open the fifth, the fourth-seeded Australian, who has been struggling with tendinitis in his right shoulder, decided he could not continue.
Pioline, who reached the U.S. Open final in 1993, advanced 4-6 4-6 6-3 7-5 1-0 (ret.) as Rafter became the first defending U.S. champion -- man or woman -- to lose in the first round in the history of this Grand Slam tournament going back to 1881.
"It was a sharp pain, only on the serve," Rafter said, adding that he began feeling it midway through the first set. "I've been practicing for the last few days, feeling great. I was very confident, very happy with the progress. For it to break down that quickly, I was very surprised.
"For me, it's very tough to pull yourself off the court like that. I sat there (after the fourth set) and I knew I should have just walked off at that stage, but I didn't. Even if I had won that game, I couldn't see myself pulling up for the next match. But I still didn't want to walk off the court."
Rafter said he was especially bothered by the boos after being treated so well by fans while winning back-to-back titles.
"It's very sad," he said. "What can I do? It is very disappointing. ... To be booed off, that hurts, no doubt about it."
Pioline couldn't take too much satisfaction.
"I was very surprised because I know Patrick is a very good fighter. He never gives up, so if he stopped the match it's because he has a serious problem," said the 26th-ranked Frenchman.
"If he can play he will," Pioline said. Rafter had won his previous 11 five-set matches.
Rafter's early exit couldn't have come at a worse time for the tournament that hours earlier lost world No. 1 Pete Sampras, who was forced to withdraw suffering from a herniated disc in his back.
Rafter and Sampras had been widely expected to meet in the semifinals in a half of the draw that was thrown up for grabs by the double disaster.
Rafter had the trainer work on his ailing shoulder during several changeovers but it looked as if he would come through after he took the first two sets.
But with pace and movement missing from Rafter's serve, Pioline turned up the pressure with his own serve and volley game.
"I thought his shoulder was sore because he was not serving very powerful in the third set," Pioline said. "I played a very good game to break him in the third set. I started to be more aggressive and more confident."
Still, Rafter nearly escaped disaster when a trio of double faults by a nervous Pioline in the 10th game of the fourth set put the Australian two points away from serving for the match.
Instead, Pioline launched consecutive service winners to hold, broke Rafter for a 6-5 lead and served out the set.
When Pioline broke Rafter again to open the fifth after two hours and 39 minutes, the popular Australian walked up to the net and told his opponent the match was over.
"He told me his shoulder was very sore," Pioline said.
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