NEW YORK -- Michael Chang has had problems throughout his career with big hitters. They would wear him down with their pulverizing serves, and wear out the most indefatigable player in tennis with their grinding ground strokes.
Until last night, the one exception for Chang was Pete Sampras. Ever since the Southern California native turned pro, theirs has been a rivalry in which the little man dominated. Chang had won six of eight matches overall, six of seven on hardcourts.
Just when it seemed that Chang would continue his magic spell in their quarterfinal match of the U.S. Open, Sampras figured Chang out. And just when it looked as if they would take this rivalry to new heights, Sampras blew Chang off the Stadium Court at the National Tennis Center.
After being shut out in a first-set tiebreaker, the second-seeded Sampras turned things around by winning a second-set tiebreaker and used it as a launching pad to a relatively easy 6-7 (0-7), 7-6 (7-2), 6-1, 6-1 win over No. 7 seed Chang.
The victory advanced Sampras, 22, into Saturday's semifinal against No. 14 Alexander Volkov, who beat Thomas Muster, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5, last night. The victory also ran Sampras' record at the Open to 25-4.
"He was really taking it to me in the first set, putting me on the defensive and that's not my style," said Sampras, who first met Chang in a junior tournament outside San Diego when he was 8 and Chang was 7. "I was just letting the match come to me and I can't do that."
Asked if Chang's previous record played a part in his tentative start, Sampras said, "Michael's 6-1 against me [on hardcourts] and I wasn't comfortable at the beginning of the match. I wasn't sure whether to stay back or come in. I knew I had to do something differently."
What Sampras did was start coming in behind his rocket serves, taking away Chang's passing shot by rushing the net with more consistency. He also pounded his ground strokes from both sides of the baseline. Chang, meanwhile, started missing the shots he had made earlier in the match and couldn't stay with Sampras' power.
"Maybe I'm going to have to start pumping some iron," Chang joked later.
The defeat ended a marvelous run for Chang this summer, which began after Wimbledon and continued through the first set last night. Chang was one of the hottest players on the tour, with 19 wins in his last 22 matches. It continued until the second-set tiebreaker.
Then Sampras took over. He did what the tour's most powerful server, Marc Rossett of Switzerland, did to Chang in the final of the recent Hamlet Cup. He did what another big hitter, Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands, did to Chang in the final at Los Angeles. He did what Stefan Edberg couldn't do to Chang when he won last month in Cincinnati.
He knocked out the best counter-puncher in tennis.
"I gave it my best," said Chang, 21, a semifinalist here last year. "In the third and fourth sets, I got a little tired. I did what I wanted to do, but it wasn't good enough."
After Chang held service in the first game of the third set, Sampras dominated the match. He ran off the next 11 games in a row and in one stretch, he won nine straight points on Chang's serve. Chang finally won a game at 5-0, but it was too late.
The victory leaves Sampras, who won here in 1990, as the lone American left. It also leaves him as the heavy favorite in a tournament where six of the top seven seeds have been eliminated.
When someone asked Chang how to beat Sampras, he joked, "Go over and snap his strings. Maybe get Princess Di over here. It's tough to beat him when he's playing that well."
Men's singles, quarterfinals
Pete Sampras (2), Tampa, Fla., def. Michael Chang (7), Henderson, Nev., 6-7 (7-0), 7-6 (7-2), 6-1, 6-1. Alexander Volkov (14), Russia, def. Thomas Muster, Austria, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 7-5.
Women's singles, quarterfinals
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain, def. Natalia Zvereva, Belarus, 3-0, retired. Helena Sukova (12), Czech Republic, def. Katerina Maleeva, Bulgaria, 6-4, 6-7 (7-3), 6-3.
TODAY'S FEATURE MATCHES
Magnus Larsson, Sweden, vs. Wally Masur, Australia
L Cedric Pioline (15), France, vs. Andrei Medvedev (8), Russia