Sampras, Agassi renew rivalry at U.S. Open

Posted: Wednesday, September 05, 2001

NEW YORK -- For his next trick, Pete Sampras takes his high-wire act at the U.S. Open into a matchup against Andre Agassi, no simple matter for the Grand Slam title record holder.

Sampras eliminated two-time champion Patrick Rafter, and Agassi ousted Roger Federer to set up a heavyweight quarterfinal Wednesday night in America's Grand Slam.

They are the two oldest players in the draw -- Agassi 31, Sampras 30 -- resuming their rivalry in a match that might be more appropriate for a final instead of a quarter. Sampras leads the series 17-14 but Agassi has won the last three matches, including two finals.

The last time they met at the Open was in the 1995 final, which Sampras won in four sets. Their last Grand Slam meeting was in the Australian Open final last year, when Agassi won in five sets.

The three losses to Agassi this year are part of a 17-tournament slump Sampras has endured since setting a record by winning his 13th Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 2000.

The drought led to a No. 10 seed at the Open, a tournament he has won four times.

Sampras viewed the season's final Grand Slam as a chance to save his summer but the draw did not make it a simple task, facing Rafter and Agassi in successive matches.

''I've had a few challenges over the year, but yeah, this is a very, very tough draw, even from my first match on,'' Sampras said. ''To play Pat in the 16 and back it up against Andre, this is about as tough as it's going to get. It's a huge challenge.

''He's one of the best ever. He, like Pat, brings out the best in me. I'm going to have to play very well to beat him. He feels the same way against me. There's a lot of respect. There's a lot of history we have. It should produce some good tennis.''

Sampras is equipped with one of the best serves in the game and Agassi with one of the best returns. That should make for compelling tennis.

Both players were on the grounds at the National Tennis Center to practice Tuesday.

Agassi, seeded No. 2, has prospered at the Open, winning his first four matches almost at will. Even when he dropped a set in a tiebreaker against Ramon Delgado and was forced to two other tiebreakers, he always seemed in control.

''I felt great about every part of my game,'' he said after beating Federer, who defeated Sampras at Wimbledon. ''It was just coming off my racket so solid. You feel like you're not letting anything affect your focus or concentration. It's a pretty tight package today.''

Agassi understood the significance of playing Sampras next.

''If you win, you've done something pretty incredible by beating one of the game's best,'' he said. ''If you lose, you know you were part of something, part of a challenge and opportunity that you know you're not going to get very often.''

Sampras and Agassi are old pals who've been playing since they were kids. Sampras remembers the first time they played in Northridge, Calif.

''I think I always claim I beat him,'' Sampras said. ''I think I might have been eight and he was nine.''

Agassi claims he was taller then.

''He was,'' Sampras said. ''But that quickly changed. Thank God.''

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