Youth outserved: Sampras hammers Roddick

Posted: Friday, September 06, 2002

NEW YORK -- As Pete Sampras pumped his fist to celebrate a volley winner that closed the second set, Andy Roddick flashed an admiring thumbs up and then bowed, acknowledging that his idol still has what it takes.

This cross-generational match-up was no match at all.

Smacking aces at over 130 mph, covering every inch of the net, Sampras looked like the younger man Thursday night and dominated an apparently awe-struck Roddick 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the U.S. Open semifinals. It took all of 90 minutes.

''This is what I play for. I was ready to go from the first point on,'' said Sampras, who hasn't won a tournament at any level in two years. ''I'm just confident in the big moment that I'm going to come through. I spent moments of struggling with the confidence this year, but I can get it back pretty quickly.''

Sampras has played his best tennis of the past 24 months in the U.S. Open, reaching the finals in 2000 and 2001. Now he's doing it again.

''You guys say Pete is washed up. I never said it,'' Roddick said. ''I don't think anybody doubts the fact that he's capable of great tennis still.''

The difference in the players' ages was obvious when they walked out on a windy night: the 20-year-old Roddick in his shiny blue T-shirt, his spiky hair peering out from above a visor, and the 31-year-old Sampras in his proper tennis whites, nothing covering his receding hairline.

Sampras, seeking his fifth U.S. Open championship, will be a big favorite Saturday against No. 24 Sjeng Schalken, who outlasted No. 28 Fernando Gonzalez 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2) Thursday to get to his first major semifinal.

Saturday's other semifinal is Andre Agassi vs. defending champion Lleyton Hewitt, yet another duel between a 30-something and a 20-something.

The women play their semifinals Friday, with Venus and Serena Williams bidding to set up a third straight all-sister Grand Slam final. Venus, the two-time defending champion, faces Amelie Mauresmo, followed by Serena against Lindsay Davenport.

Arthur Ashe Stadium was a sea of empty blue seats Thursday afternoon for Schalken-Gonzalez. It was packed at night for Sampras-Roddick, which didn't live up to the billing.

To put it simply: Youth was outserved. And outvolleyed, outhit and out-just-about-everything-elsed.

Asked by USA Network announcers what advice he'd give Roddick, Boris Becker said, ''Get out of the stadium.''

Sampras had 13 aces and a total of 43 winners to 18 for Roddick, who might have been a step slow, having bruised his left foot during an earlier match.

Still, he never came close to solving Sampras' serve, managing only one break point. It came early in the second set and was erased, appropriately, when Sampras struck a good serve and followed it up with a crisp volley to the corner.

''You can't be upset at not breaking Pete Sampras,'' said Roddick, seeded 11th to Sampras' 17th.

This was Sampras' 29th Grand Slam quarterfinal, and Roddick's second. Sampras came in with 200 match victories in majors, Roddick with 15.

Roddick looked tight right from the start. He lost the first seven points of the match en route to getting broken immediately and falling behind 3-0.

''I wanted to set the tone early,'' Sampras said.

He was popping serves by Roddick, and not just with pure power. Sampras closed the first set with a spinning offering at 101 mph that Roddick barely got to, his forehand return bouncing before it reached the net.

Roddick handed Sampras a 2-1 second-set edge by double faulting twice in a row to get broken at love. At the changeover, Roddick chewed on a towel, then tried to rip it.

Sampras broke again to get to 5-2, helped by Roddick's backhand into the net. Roddick -- as emotive on the court as Sampras is stoic -- dropped his racket, twisted at the hips, and yelled, ''Awww, come on!''

Sampras wasn't shaken at all by the setting, of course. He's now 20-0 in night matches at the Open and insists he has one more major title in him.

He entered this tournament with a 20-17 match record in 2002, including a stunning second-round exit at Wimbledon.

''I don't have that week-in, week-out passion like I had once before,'' Sampras said.

Searching for answers, he has switched coaches the way some players change rackets during a match. Since December, he's gone from Paul Annacone to Tom Gullikson to Jose Higueras and back to Annacone.

''There's more adversity this year. It's looking at it as an opportunity and challenge,'' Annacone said Thursday. ''He's accepted that in the last month or so and turned things around. His approach is where he wants it to be.''

How bad have things been for Sampras? When he went to a tuneup event the week before the U.S. Open, he lost his first match to 77th-ranked Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu (which is not pronounced ''Mat-who,'' but might as well be).

Wimbledon, of course, would rank as Sampras' favorite tournament: Seven of his record 13 Grand Slam titles came on the grass of the All England Club.

But he's had plenty of success at the U.S. Open, including his first major victory. Sampras had just turned 19 when he beat Agassi in the 1990 Open final, and he still ranks as the tournament's youngest male champion.

In the semifinals that year, a bushy-haired Sampras beat 31-year-old John McEnroe.

There was no such upstart-over-veteran result Thursday. Not even close.

''It's a rush for me, a night like tonight,'' Sampras said. ''I believe in myself. That's the key for me.''



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