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Edberg, Sampras Struggle to Survive Tough Semifinals

September 13, 1992|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — So what was the bigger upset Saturday night at the U.S. Open? A four-set match or Jim Courier getting dumped on his No. 1 ranking by Pete Sampras?

Or was the day's truly biggest stunner what happened a couple of hours earlier, when Stefan Edberg won a match only slightly shorter than the Hundred Years' War?

Whatever. Saturday was the perfect day to take your pick of U.S. Open semifinals, whether you chose Sampras' cramping-up, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Courier, or the match that wouldn't end, Edberg's 5-hour 26-minute five-set endurance contest with Michael Chang, 6-7 (7-3), 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-4.

As a result, the 1992 U.S. Open champion is going to be a repeater--either Edberg, the defending champion, or Sampras, who won the year before.

Sampras probably played better and felt worse than anybody who showed up for tennis Saturday. Sure, he avenged last year's Open semifinal defeat to Courier, but he didn't feel much like celebrating.

In fact, Sampras didn't even feel much like talking. He ran off the court right after the match and was unable to talk to reporters because of severe cramps caused by dehydration.

Sampras stayed in the referee's office for nearly three hours after the match.

Sampras' doctor, who asked not to be named and was barred from treating him, told the Associated Press he doubted Sampras could have become dehydrated in the quick match on a cool evening.

"It might have been food poisoning or something else, but there's no way he's dehydrated after that match," the doctor said. "I don't know why (Open officials) are making such a mystery of it. There's something more to it than they're telling."

Sampras did his talking on the court--11 aces, 44 winners and a second serve on which he won 32 of 52 points.

For Courier, it was not a great loss. Even though he went down swinging, his defeat will cost him his No. 1 ranking, which is destined for the winner of today's final.

Courier blamed himself for the loss.

"That was probably the worst I ever played in a big match," he said. "I beat myself out there."

Broadway plays have had shorter runs than the Edberg-Chang production. And although the match will certainly be remembered for its length and importance, it hardly rated as a virtuoso performance by either.

To begin with, Edberg's serving was pretty distressing, but only for anyone who considers 18 double-faults excessive.

Edberg made 67 unforced errors, which would have been too many, if not for his uncanny ability to save break points.

All told, there were a total of 54 break points in the match, 34 against Edberg. But Chang converted only 11 of them.

"At least I gave it my best," Chang said. "Some days I am going to fall a little short."

As far as Edberg and Chang go, they may be joined forever in the Grand Slam record books, but not without an asterisk. No official timekeeping records were kept at the French Open until the last five years and similar bookkeeping was not done on all matches on all courts at the U.S. Open or the Australian Open.

However, Wimbledon's official record for longest match is 5 hours 12 minutes set in 1969 by Pancho Gonzalez and Charlie Pasarell. The longest match at the Australian Open is believed to be the 5-hour 11-minute endeavor between Boris Becker and Omar Camporese in 1991.

Afterward, Chang congratulated Edberg at the net, but when asked what he said exactly, Chang had no idea. "I think in these long matches, you lose a few brain cells," he said.

Actually, Chang probably could have locked up the match in the fifth set when he broke Edberg for a 2-0 lead and held another break point for 4-0. But Edberg wriggled away.

The rest of the way, it got pretty unsettling for whomever was serving. Edberg broke Chang for 1-3, but Chang broke back for 4-2. Chang didn't win another game, losing his last two service games at love and finally concluding his marathon by knocking a service return wide on match point.

It was Edberg's third consecutive five-set victory, each time coming back from being down a break in the last set.

No matter what, Edberg can't play more than five sets today.

Chang was asked for his reaction: "Thank God I don't have to play."

Marathon Men

The Stefan Edberg-Michael Chang semifinal Saturday is believed to be the longest match in the history of Grand Slam tournaments in the Open era. Here are the 10 longest matches played at this year's U.S. Open:

5:26--Edberg vs. Chang

5:01--Boris Becker vs. Ivan Lendl

4:23--Lendl vs. Jaime Yzaga

4:20--Edberg vs. Richard Krajicek

4:17--Chang vs. Wayne Ferreira

3:58--Edberg vs. Lendl

3:52--Brad Gilbert vs. Michael Stich

3:47--Andre Agassi vs. Jim Courier

3:45--Gilbert vs. Tommy Ho

3:41--Todd Martin vs. Pete Sampras

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