Courier ends Sampras' reign at U.S. Open


NEW YORK -- Pete Sampras complained about the monke that was riding his back. He talked of winning the U.S. Open last year as a 19-year-old and of having his life change. He spoke of injuries and disappointments.

And he was relieved.

Yesterday, Sampras became just another beaten quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open. Pinned to the baseline, frustrated by his inability to club 120-mph serves, Sampras, the No. 6 seed, was taken out by No. 4 Jim Courier, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5).

"Things might calm down a little bit now," Sampras said. "You know, I am not the reigning U.S. Open champion anymore."

When they get down to deciding this U.S. Open championship, Sampras will be back home in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. In tomorrow's semifinals, it will be Courier, the French Open champion, going against the winner of last night's quarterfinal between Jimmy Connors and Paul Haarhuis, 4-6 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-2.

The other semifinal will match No. 2 Stefan Edberg against No. 5 Ivan Lendl, the three-time champion who came back in a rain-suspended match to defeat reigning Wimbledon titlist Michael Stich, 6-3, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1.

"Maybe I can go back to my normal lifestyle," Sampras said. "It's a bit disappointing to lose. I knew it was going to be tough to try to defend here, and you know, I thought I played pretty good tennis. I got to the quarterfinals. But I didn't play a good match."

Sampras against Courier was a match of opposites. Sampras, dark-haired and cool, a classic serve-and-volley stylist vs. Courier, a redhead who sweats through his shirts and runs along the baseline like a third baseman fielding ground balls.

Best of friends off the court, Sampras hadn't lost a set against Courier in three previous meetings. But Courier is now the hottest player on the tour, the master of the red clay of Roland Garros, the student willing to take his licks in a quarterfinal march on grass at Wimbledon.

"I have just been kind of working through the whole summer," Courier said. "I've been working on my game, trying to stay mentally stable and it hasn't been that crazy."

While Courier worked and progressed this summer, Sampras regressed. He was hit by a string of injuries running from his feet to his stomach to his back. He was adjusting to life as a new millionaire. He was struggling to reclaim the magic of his game. But in August, it all appeared to come together for Sampras, who reached three tournament finals and won two. Suddenly, he was being ridiculed for being a one-month-a-year player.

"August is certainly my best month of the year," Sampras said"What can you say about criticism? You've got to take it."

Courier has watched Sampras struggle with fame and his gamthis year, and although he said he understands what his friend is going through, he is not entirely sympathetic.

"Really, how much pressure does Pete have?" Courier said. "He will never have to work another day in his life. He has got millions in the bank. He is 20 years old. I really think that he should just be able to go out there and swing freely and have fun with the game. Everybody in the world would trade positions with him. He has got the world at his feet, and I don't think he has to worry about too many things."

Stich also had difficulty coping with fame and newly found pressure after winning Wimbledon. He said he enjoyed playing in the United States, where he could remain anonymous. Over and over, he said that people knew his name, but didn't know what he looked like.

But yesterday, Stich's summer came to a skidding end againsLendl. When rain interrupted their match Wednesday night, the players had split the first two sets but Stich was up, 4-3, 40-15, in the third.

The match turned in the fourth-set tie-breaker. Lendl, trailing, 0-3, came from behind, busting two service returns and muscling Stich from the baseline with six straight points to eventually win the set. As the players walked back to their chairs, Stich threw his racket, and Lendl calmly reached for a towel.

"I just gave it to him on the plate, and he took it," Stich said. "I was just stupid. When you're up, 3-0, you don't have to rush anything. To lose six points in a row, that's really bad. It shouldn't happen at a tournament like that when you have a chance to beat Ivan Lendl. I just choked. I just couldn't make it."


Featured matches at the U.S. Open (seedings in parentheses):


11 a.m.: Steffi Graf (1) vs. Martina Navratilova (6), women's semifinals

After men's doubles final: Monica Seles (2) vs. Jennifer Capriat (7), women's semifinals


Times for the men's semifinals and women's final have not been announced.

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