WASHINGTON -- Pete Sampras is Randy Johnson with a tennis racket.
The show he put on yesterday while blowing away Patrick Rafter, 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-1, 6-4, giving the United States a decisive third match in a 4-1 Davis Cup semifinal victory over Australia, lent new meaning to the words domination and perfection.
Sampras served 18 times, excluding the first-set tiebreaker, and lost just 15 points. He hit 14 aces and had just one double fault in the 2-hour, 19-minute match.
Rafter didn't win a single point on Sampras' serve in the 25-minute second set. He scored only five of 21 points against Sampras' usual 120-mph lightning bolts in the 24-minute third set. Rafter never got to a break point.
Actually, it was a tribute to the U.S. Open champ that he took the first set. Holding doggedly to his serve during the first dozen games while his opponent breezed, Rafter won the tiebreaker, 8-6, when Sampras was guilty of two of just 15 unforced errors he committed over 37 games.
"I gained my composure quickly after the first set," Sampras said. "The break early in the second set helped."
It started a run in which Rafter's serve was broken five times in seven opportunities.
"It puts great pressure on you to hold when you're doing absolutely nothing against his serve," Rafter said.
Sampras said: "My game plan was to make sure and get my first serve in, because you know he's going to chip and charge on your second serve."
While Rafter faced the pressure of serving from behind and having his backhand picked on incessantly, Sampras was completely relaxed, "knowing Michael Chang was there to back XTC me up if needed. It was also great fun to play today because the [sellout crowd of 7,500] was really into it."
In a highly entertaining but inconsequential match that followed what turned out to be the main event, Chang defeated Mark Philippoussis, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-2).
Sampras, Chang and company now move on to play host Sweden in the Davis Cup finals in November. The Swedes advanced past Italy yesterday, 4-1, with U.S. Open semifinalist Jonas Bjorkman beating Renzo Furlan, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4, in the deciding match. It will be the 59th Cup finals for the United States, which seeks its 32nd title.
"We gave it our best," Aussie captain John Newcombe said. "Pete certainly didn't leave any openings, did he?"
Sampras brushed aside any suggestion that the win over Rafter was revenge for the Aussie taking the U.S. Open, a tournament Sampras had come to own for much of the 1990s.
"I'm to the point in my career where I feel I don't have to prove anything. I went in regarding this as just a normal match," he said.
Backing the statement is the fact Sampras is about to retain his top world ranking for the fifth straight year.
Pub Date: 9/22/97