The king is dead

Wimbledon champ upset in fourth round

Posted: Tuesday, July 03, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- Defeated and dethroned, a somber Pete Sampras lingered at his courtside chair, engulfed by cheers that weren't for him.

With no trophy to collect, the seven-time champion instead picked up three sweaty towels, stuffed them into his tennis bag and slung it over his shoulder. Then, head down, Sampras slowly followed Roger Federer toward the exit, making his earliest departure at Wimbledon in 10 years.

Federer showed his former idol the door in a stunning upset Monday, winning 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5. The fourth-round thriller ended Sampras' remarkable reign _ at least for the moment.

"You know something so great isn't going to last forever,'' Sampras said. "Today I just came up a little bit short.''

Sampras had won 31 consecutive Wimbledon matches and 56 of his last 57. The defeat, his first at the All England Club since a quarterfinal loss to Richard Krajicek in 1996, ended his bid for a record-tying fifth consecutive title.

The result also marked a breakthrough for the 19-year-old Federer in his Centre Court debut. The Swiss youngster has been considered a potential Grand Slam champion since winning the Wimbledon juniors title three years ago.

"It was his moment,'' Sampras said. "It's grass-court tennis. One minute you feel like you have it, the next minute you're walking off the court.''

Sampras, who turns 30 next month, hasn't won a tournament since Wimbledon last year and hasn't reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 2001. The latest defeat will be cited as further evidence of his decline, but he dismissed the suggestion retirement might be near.

"Let's not get carried away,'' he said. "I plan on being back for many years. There's no reason to panic and think that I can't come back here and win here again. I feel like I can always win here.''

The departure of the top-seeded Sampras creates an opening for Andre Agassi, Patrick Rafter and Marat Safin, who all advanced to the quarterfinals. Winners on the women's side included Venus and Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Lindsay Davenport, all in straight sets.

The women's quarterfinals are Tuesday, with the showcase match pitting Capriati against Serena Williams. Capriati, halfway to a sweep of this year's four major tournaments, beat Williams in the French Open quarterfinals last month.

"I've been more determined after that match,'' Williams said. "I want to remember all the bad things I did in that match so I can improve the next time.''

Said Capriati: "I know how to play her and know how to beat her.''

The best matchup in the other half of the draw pairs Davenport, the 1999 champion, against French Open runner-up Kim Clijsters. Davenport scored an impressive win Monday, beating Jelena Dokic 7-5, 6-4.

In the other quarterfinals, defending champion Venus Williams plays 33-year-old Nathalie Tauziat, and Justine Henin plays 1994 champion Conchita Martinez.

The men's quarterfinals Wednesday are also set, excluding one unfinished fourth-round match. American Todd Martin led Britain's Tim Henman 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 6-4 when play was suspended because of darkness.

The winner will face the 15th-seeded Federer, suddenly a title threat. The highest-seeded player left in his half of the draw is Safin at No. 4.

"After beating Pete, I think maybe I have a chance,'' Federer said.

Agassi will play Frenchman Nicolas Escude, who ended Lleyton Hewitt's 13-match winning streak Monday. Rafter will face Thomas Enqvist, and Safin will play Goran Ivanisevic.

Agassi, who has yet to lose a set, advanced by beating Nicolas Kiefer 6-3, 7-5, 7-5. Ivanisevic, a three-time runner-up and the sentimental men's favorite, improved to 9-0 against Greg Rusedski, winning 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-4.

Although 32 of the world's best players were in action on a warm, muggy day, there was little excitement until Sampras and Federer took the court.

Sampras held a set point in the opening tiebreaker, but Federer erased it with a service winner. Sampras lost the set four points later when he dumped an easy backhand into the net, and the battle was on.

Wearing a bandanna and ponytail, Federer looks nothing like Sampras but plays with the same stylish ease and seems comfortable at the net, which is unusual for a teen-ager. Much of the time the Swiss youngster had the better serve, and he confidently closed out the third set with three consecutive service winners and an ace that kicked up chalk.

Sampras played his best tennis in the final two sets, cranking serves up to 136 mph and looking like the champion of old at the net.

"I've won a lot of close matches out there,'' he said. "I very much felt like I was going to win.''

At 4-4 in the final set he held two break points, but Federer erased one with a volley and the other with a sizzling forehand. That was Sampras' last chance to pull out a victory.

Serving in the final game, he misplayed two volleys and fell behind 15-40. Federer then cracked a return winner -- something he had done repeatedly over the previous 3 1/2 hours -- and fell to his knees with glee before keeling over onto the turf. Soon he had tears in his eyes.

"This match will give me as much confidence as I can get,'' Federer said. "This is the biggest win of my life."



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