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TENNIS: NEVER WRITE OFF SAMPRAS; Open champ underlines his legend status.


MUCH of the tennis world must be feeling pretty foolish today because few gave Pete Sampras - arguably the greatest player of all time - a chance of winning the US Open.

Triumph he did, though, and in glorious fashion with a 6-3 6-4 5-7 6-4 over Andre Agassi.

The tennis hierarchy are shaking their heads in disbelief when they should be blushing.

Andy Roddick, Agassi or Lleyton Hewitt were very real possibilities, but not Sampras, surely, they said.

This was a remarkable title run for a man who is 31 years old and looking a little thin on top.

And he had not captured a tournament crown in more than two years.

No tournament exemplified his struggles more than Wimbledon in June.

Sampras had owned Wimbledon, winning the title there in seven of eight years from 1993.

He reached a new low this summer when getting knocked out in the second round by the world number 145, a Swiss player named George Bastl.

Losing makes the victories taste that much sweeter, though.

``This one may take the cake,'' said Sampras, who broke Roy Emerson's all-time Grand Slam singles mark at the 2000 Wimbledon.

``I never thought anything would surpass what happened at Wimbledon a couple years ago, but the way I've been going this year, to come through a very tough time and play like this, it was awesome.''

After the Wimbledon setback, Sampras said that he believed he still had another Grand Slam win in him.

No one appeared to be listening.

Greg Rusedski even said after falling to him in the third round at Flushing Meadows that he could not see Sampras winning another match.

Sampras duly marched on, whipping world number three Tommy Haas, then Roddick,then Sjeng Schalken and finally Agassi last night in the final.

Agassi certainly had not written his fellow American off.

``His game is to be able to raise himself at the right time,'' Agassi said.

``It's gotten tougher for him, but there's a danger in the way he plays and how good he is.

``Anybody that says different is really ignorant. They don't understand the game because Pete has a lot of weapons.''

Because of great success at Wimbledon, people tend to forget how dominant Sampras has been in New York.

He won his first major title back in 1990 - against Agassi - at Flushing Meadows and has appeared in seven more finals there since.

In three of those US Open finals, he has put paid to Agassi. That should lend some perspective to his greatness.


TENNIS LEGEND: Pete Sampras was written off by many pundits before the US Open
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 10, 2002
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