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TENNIS: GRAND SAM; Flush-bang Pete rolls back years.

Byline: Arthur PEERS Flushing Meadows, New York

FORMER world No1 Pete Sampras is back where he says he belongs - in the final of the US Open for the eighth time and the third consecutive year.

Last night he blew away Sjeng Schalken 7-6 7-6 6-2 and allowed himself to dream of another Grand Slam win in a showdown with Andre Agassi. Not a bad day's work for a man supposed to be past it.

For the last two years Sampras has been trying to convince us he is still a champion. But given that the last tournament he won was Wimbledon 2000, few believed him.

That has all changed in New York this week and Sampras can see himself lifting his fifth US Open crown tonight after thumping defeats in the last two finals.

Sampras, who was written off by his third-round victim Greg Rusedski only to make the Brit look silly by subsequently hammering Tommy Haas and Andy Roddick, was fired up from the start.

Every winner was greeted with a roar by the New York crowd, desperate for the fallen champ to recapture the glory days.

Since breaking Roy Emerson's record for Grand Slam triumphs at the All England Club two years ago, Sampras has gone 33 straight tournaments without a title.

At Wimbledon this year he was humiliated by unknown George Bastl.

Coach Paul Annacone gave Sampras a dressing down in mid summer when the two resumed their professional relationship after a six-month break.

He presented the idea of a comeback to Sampras as a new challenge. He'd won Grand Slams before - but he had never had to pull himself out of a slump.

Suddenly Sampras had a goal and that seems to have made all the difference. By the time he faced Schalken last night, he was back to his old arrogant self.

Once again serving like the champion he was, Pistol Pete barely gave the outclassed Dutchman a chance. "He was serving so well that I couldn't get my racket on them," said Schalken.

"He was placing the ball so well with 120mph serves I couldn't get a touch."

The first set was finely balanced but once Sampras had his nose in front, he was in control and on his way to the final.

Trounced by Marat Safin in 2000 and again by Lleyton Hewitt last year, the American owes Flushing Meadows another Grand Slam performance.

CAPTION(S):

IT'S FINAL! Pete Sampras celebrates the victory over Sjeng Schalken that sets up a showdown with Andre Agassi
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Sep 8, 2002
Words:421
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