NEW YORK - Pete Sampras brought his happy heart and big serve into the third round of the U.S. Open last night, hoping for a bit of the old magic.
He told everyone early on here that he still has the game at the age of 31 to win another Grand Slam. It would be No. 14, should he get it.
Last night, under the lights at Louis Armstrong Stadium, he met No. 33 Greg Rusedski, a determined Brit who didn't believe it before the match and still didn't believe it afterward.
Together, in front of a Sampras-partial crowd, they tangoed into a fifth and deciding set, Sampras rolling his shoulders between points and Rusedski touching his socks for luck after every point.
The socks didn't work.
No. 17 Sampras advanced to the fourth round with a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4 victory. Today, he will play No. 3 Tommy Haas, who also survived a five-setter. Haas beat Thomas Enqvist, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
"This was huge," Sampras said. "It was a tough match, and you cherish these a little more. I really didn't get hold of his second serve, but the crowd got me going. Louis Armstrong has been pretty good to me over the years."
Rusedski, who is often blunt, did after the match what he couldn't do during the match - level the aging champion.
"Let's be honest," he said. "I lost this match. He didn't win it. I had a set point in the first set at 5-3 and didn't finish it. I played two horrendous tie-breakers. I tried my best, but I gave him too much respect.
"He's not playing that great. He's a step and a half slow to the net and I'll be very surprised if he wins against Haas. I wouldn't put any money on him winning this tournament."
After two days of almost solid rain, the Open got going again last night in a big way. Top seeds were playing all around the U.S. National Tennis Center.
Gustavo Kuerten advanced to the fourth round when Nicolas Massu (right hamstring and groin injury) retired with Kuerten leading 6-1, 5-4. Massu was the 10th man to retire in this Open, extending the record of seven set here on the second day of the tournament.
Following Sampras into Armstrong Stadium was No. 11 Andy Roddick and No. 18 Alex Corretja. Roddick won the third-round match, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (6).
Over on the Grandstand Court, No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and No. 14 Jiri Novak followed Haas into play, with Hewitt winning the fourth-round match, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.
On the Arthur Ashe Court, No. 6 Andre Agassi played Jan Michael Gambill, also in a fourth-round match, and beat him easily, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.
Sampras and Rusedski started their match Sunday evening between raindrops. Sampras fell behind and Rusedski served for the first set, but Sampras rallied to get back on serve at 4-5 before the match was suspended until yesterday.
Yesterday, the match came down to the 10th game of the final set. Neither player had a lot of luck breaking the other's serve, though Rusedski managed to break Sampras four times, while Sampras had broken Rusedski just twice before the final set.
Before the last set, it was the tiebreakers that were Sampras' friend.
But in the 10th game, everything changed.
Rusedski unloaded his big serve, only to see Sampras drive a forehand winner down the line. A bigger serve, the 19th ace of the night, got Rusedski even and another Sampras forehand flying long put him ahead, 30-15.
But that's when the magic came.
Sampras had five forehand winners in the final set and three of them came in the final game. Two went down the line and one went cross court to set up match point.
Sampras' eyes glowed bright as Rusedski's hope dimmed.
On the final serve, Sampras' forehand drove Rusedski back and his opponent's ensuing forehand went wide.
In the stands, Sampras' wife, Bridgette, high-fived everyone she could reach. On the court, her husband raised his arms and then briefly shook hands with Rusedski.
"My first thought is getting some rest for tomorrow," Sampras said. "My game is pretty good. I didn't return that well tonight, but I got through it. Tomorrow will be different. A lot more baseline rallies."
Sampras' next opponent, Haas, said he wouldn't underestimate the four-time U.S. Open champion.
"I watched the films of last year's Sampras-Agassi match during the rain delay yesterday," Haas said. "He knows what he wants. Maybe he isn't as quick as he was, but the will, the power and the desire are all there."
Last night, it showed.