Sampras, Rafter to renew battle at Open
NEW YORK (AP)
- Pete Sampras stands on the cusp of history at the U.S. Open. Patrick Rafter, the defending champion, stands in his way.
In what promises to be the showcase match of a tame tournament that so far has provided few surprises or dramatic battles, Sampras and Rafter meet in a men's semifinal that will have the feel of a final.
The last 11 days have seemed little more than a setup for Saturday's match, which features two of the best serve-and-volleyers of their generation. It pits the hottest players in men's tennis against each other.
And it could provide revenge for Sampras - not only against an opponent who defeated him a month ago in Cincinnati, but also against critics who had written him off as an over-the-hill champion.
"It's time, this is the U.S. Open, this is the big moment of the year for me," Sampras said. "This is what the year boils down to for me."
Sampras, who will remain No. 1 in the world no matter what happens the rest of this tournament, has not lost in a Grand Slam semifinal since 1996 at Wimbledon.
Rafter had lost eight straight times to Sampras before beating him in the final of an ATP Tour event in Cincinnati in mid-August, a match that ended with a disputed call. Rafter's serve was called out, but the umpire overruled the call to give Rafter the ace and the match.
Sampras stood at the baseline for several seconds, making the victorious Rafter wait at the net, and then refused to shake the umpire's hand.
Rafter said that win will change his attitude heading into tomorrow's semifinal.
"I won't go on the court feeling as intimidated as I had before," he said. "But Pete is a different kettle of fish altogether. I had a great win last year. He's done it for the last six years."
Rafter, whose speed will be pitted against Sampras' power, had to rally from a two-set deficit in the first round of this year's U.S. Open against Hicham Arazi. Since then, he's dropped just one set in four matches.
Rafter is trying to become the sixth man of the Open Era to successfully defend a U.S. Open singles title. That's an accomplishment that would impress even Sampras.