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Agassi, Sampras make early exits

Posted: Thursday, June 27, 2002

WIMBLEDON, England -- Pete Sampras sat, elbows on knees and head bowed, digesting the disappointment while his opponent walked off to an extended standing ovation.

Two hours later, Andre Agassi stood impatiently, racket bag in hand, watching his opponent acknowledge the cheering crowd by bowing to all corners of the stadium -- the very same gesture Agassi has used for years.

Winners, losers and fans alike were stunned at Wimbledon on Wednesday. Sampras and Agassi -- polar opposites in persona and style of play, owners of a combined 20 major titles, rivals of a bygone era -- were upset in the second round.

''You're going to have a match like this once every 10 years. And it happened today,'' Sampras said. ''It's going to be a tough flight home, a tough next couple weeks, just knowing that this is going on, and I'm not here.''

He was sluggish, betrayed by his serve and backhand and blinked first in the fifth set to lose to 145th-ranked George Bastl 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4 on tiny Court 2 -- the ''Graveyard of Champions.''

Sampras tried to ''keep positive'' during changeovers by, oddly enough, unfolding and reading a note written by his wife, actress Bridgette Wilson.

On Centre Court, 1992 champion and career Grand Slam holder Agassi was outbashed from the baseline by 67th-ranked Paradorn Srichaphan 6-4, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Going in, No. 3-seeded Agassi and No. 6 Sampras were a combined 104-16 at Wimbledon. Their conquerors' total record here was 3-4.

The vanquished promised to return.

Adding to the upside-down feel on a day with a record attendance of 42,457: No. 2 Marat Safin also was beaten by a player ranked outside the top 50, Olivier Rochus, who's 11 inches shorter than the 2000 U.S. Open champion.

''Tennis is more or less equal. Any player can beat any player,'' Safin said after his 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (1) humbling. ''The people, they can play tennis. Short, long, big, fat, whatever.''

Indeed. For the first time in the Open era, five of the top eight men lost before Wimbledon's third round -- and No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and No. 4 Tim Henman still have to play their second-round matches Thursday.

Agassi and Sampras, pros since the 1980s and now in their 30s, never had lost so early in the same major other than at the French Open, where it's happened twice.

With them gone, the only past Wimbledon champ in the draw is 1996 winner Richard Krajicek. Playing just his third match in more than 1 1/2 years because of right elbow surgery, he outlasted 29th-seeded James Blake 11-9 in the fifth set with the help of 32 aces.

Krajicek next faces Srichaphan.

A total of 12 seeded men and women were eliminated Wednesday.

Among the winners: No. 11 Andy Roddick and No. 23 Greg Rusedski, who'll play in the third round; No. 5 Yevgeny Kafelnikov; and Mark Philippoussis, a big server who's never lived up to his potential and missed most of 2001 because of knee surgery.

Things were calmer in women's play, where Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati won in straight sets. Jelena Dokic, Mary Pierce and Chanda Rubin also advanced.

For the entire first two sets and parts of later stages against Bastl, Sampras was as bad as he's ever been in suffering through what's now a 30-tournament, two-year title drought. He last lifted a trophy at Wimbledon in 2000.

''Guys are a little bit more confident against me,'' said Sampras, who has lost two of three matches at Wimbledon after a 56-1 run to seven titles in eight years.

''I'm maybe not quite as sharp as I used to be.''

Calls might come for Sampras to retire, but he was adamant he could still win a major.

On this day, though, he moved as if weights were strapped to his ankles, similar to his first-round exit at the French Open.

Against Bastl, he often looked resigned to losing. Sampras' biggest display of aggression came after a foot fault in the third set, when he tore the tag from the bottom of his shirt.

He didn't have a break point until the 16th game of the match, and was himself broken five times.

The first set ended with Sampras double faulting, then watching meekly as Bastl drilled a forehand passing shot down the line. Sampras dropped his head and slowly shuffled to his chair.

Repeatedly, Bastl smacked returns right at the feet of Sampras, who, caught in no man's land, dumped volleys into the net.

Most damaging, Pistol Pete became Popgun Pete, with 10 double faults to just eight aces.

Sampras cracked in the final set, getting broken in the ninth game after this sequence: double fault, backhand pass, volley wide.

Bastl then served it out, the match ending when Sampras hit a forehand 10 feet long to the wall at the end of the court, which seats just 3,000 and has seen John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and Agassi fall victim to major upsets.

''Let's just put it this way: When I heard it, I wasn't happy about it,'' Sampras said, referring to the court assignment.

Bastl, whose father played hockey in the Chicago Blackhawks' minor league system, hadn't won a tour grass-court match until Monday and is in the field only because someone withdrew.

''It's a nice story isn't it?'' he said.

Agassi's seven major titles are second among active players only to Sampras' 13, but he, too, looked bewildered.

''The part that's most surprising is that I lost in straight sets,'' said Agassi, a semifinalist the past two years and runner-up to Sampras in 1999. ''I'm just not used to that.''

Agassi had 35 unforced errors, 10 more than Srichaphan.

Still, he had a good chance to tie the match at a set apiece, but at 5-5 in the tiebreaker Srichaphan hit a forehand Agassi thought was long. He stood at the baseline, waiting for an overrule that never came.

Srichaphan won the set with a service winner on the next point, and Agassi never challenged again.

''My goal was to win the opening round,'' Srichaphan said.

''Then, when I saw I would play Andre in the next round, I thought, 'That's it for me.'''

British bookmaker William Hill set the odds of Sampras, Agassi and Safin all losing in the second round at 779-1. It was such a preposterous proposition, though, that no one made a bet.



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