NEW YORK - Maybe it's a physiological thing that he isn't even aware of. But when the lights come on at the U.S. Open, Pete Sampras shines.
As Sampras, 31 and the No. 17 seed, walked into Arthur Ashe Stadium last night, the sound system rocked with "Glory Days." Sampras didn't hear it; he said, "I was hoping for Pearl Jam." But certainly he must appreciate the idea of it.
The crowd assembled for this men's quarterfinal match between the aging champion and Andy Roddick, the 20-year-old challenger, pumped up and nervous. New Yorkers have always loved Sampras and last night they were prepared to love him again. But could he beat Roddick? Could he pull off yet another of those stunning victories that he has made almost routine here?
Not only was the answer yes, but a resounding yes.
With the light's glistening off his ever-thinning hair, Sampras made Roddick look like a miserable little boy, as he pounded him off the court, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
"I played pretty well tonight, no complaints," Sampras said. "These are big moments. Andy in a night match. You know, he's the young up-and-comer that has a great future. I'm pumped up. There's no question I kind of feed off the energy from playing at night.
"On the big occasion, I still have the goods."
Serving first and second serves for aces, stroking volleys for winners and relishing the challenge, Sampras simply demolished Roddick, who never seemed to recover from an early case of nerves.
It was not a night Roddick will remember fondly. But it's one Sampras will treasure. He is through to the semifinals, where he will play Sjeng Schalken, the little known No. 24 seed who needed five sets yesterday to beat Fernando Gonzalez, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2).
The winner of their match will meet the winner of tomorrow's other semifinal meeting between No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and No. 6 Andre Agassi for the championship on Sunday. Schalken will be playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal against Sampras, who will be playing his ninth semifinal here. Sampras, the 13-time Grand Slam champion, is determined to win his 14th major title.
"This is what I play for," Sampras said, as he said even in his most youthful days. "For me, now, it's all about winning another major."
Schalken could have made his day's work easier had he put away one of two break points in the first set. But Gonzalez lifted his game, held and then went on to win that first-set tiebreak.
"It was not easy," said Schalken of his victory in which he overcame not only Gonzalez but a stiff, swirling wind. "He started [well] and I thought I was in the middle of a hurricane. I told myself that I was down 7-6 and he again hit second serves over 120 miles an hour, then a drop shot, the weirdest balls. I thought, 'If he's going to play like this in my quarterfinal, I cannot make it.' But then, all of a sudden, he missed a couple shots and I could get a little bit more steady like I'm used to."
There was no steadying Roddick.
Even though Sampras' first serve percentage was just 48 percent, Roddick could not return the Sampras second serve that also came across the net at speeds approaching 125 mph. And, for his part, Sampras was on the attack on every Roddick serve. He produced 43 winners to Roddick's 18, while breaking him four times through the match.
Roddick has said Sampras was his idol growing up, but he did not behave like Sampras. Through the years, Sampras' expressions in winning or losing have seldom changed, and when it comes to arguing with umpires, the exchanges are rare.
In this match, Roddick spoke rudely to the chair umpire, telling him "this is getting out of control" at one point, when he disagreed with line calls in the second and third sets.
But after the match, he recovered with grace.
"I got beat by Pete," said Roddick. "No one doubts the fact that he's capable of great tennis. Look at his record here. The last two years, the finals. He backs it up.
"I always have fun playing. I am disappointed by this. But, I think I'll have my day here some day."
Last night, Sampras dismissed Roddick from school in 90 minutes. When the final point was on the scoreboard, Sampras turned and did his by-now traditional fist pump.
"I feel confident," he said. "I'm pressuring guys, coming in. I'm feeling energy out there."