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TENNIS / THOMAS BONK : After Bleak Start, Sampras Takes Leap to Top of Heap

April 18, 1993|THOMAS BONK

Pete Sampras has a new mission in his tennis career--looking out for No. 1. The newest member of the rather exclusive No. 1 club, Sampras reached the pinnacle of the computer last week when he won in Tokyo and replaced Jim Courier.

For Sampras, reaching No. 1 is the culmination of a dizzying turn of events that began the week before the Newsweek Champions Cup in early March when he wasn't sure he could still play. At that time, Sampras was told he had a stress fracture of his foot and could be sidelined indefinitely, but he sought a second opinion and was told he had only strained ligaments.

Sampras lost early at Indian Wells, but won at Lipton and again at Tokyo to overtake Courier and end his 55-week reign as No. 1.

As for how he will handle the pressure, Sampras said he doesn't expect it to be all that different than what it has already been like for him.

"Since the U.S. Open in 1990 I've been in the top five and basically a target so I'm used to it," Sampras said. "I'm not going to change. I'm just going to go out and do what I've been doing on the court.

"There's been a lot of talk, now that I did it, it's kind of a monkey off my back. I wasn't really worried.

"You always say you want to be No. 1, but you never believe it will come true. It feels pretty good."

Sampras, who chose not to play Davis Cup on the team that eventually lost to Australia in the first round, said reaching No. 1 proved to him that he made the right decision. As for John McEnroe's recent criticism of Tom Gorman, the U.S. Davis Cup captain, Sampras divided his support between McEnroe and Gorman.

"John should at least have an opportunity," Sampras said. "They should give him a chance and if it doesn't work out, it doesn't work out. But . . . as far as Tom remaining captain, I think it was the right decision last year for the USTA to make. It's pretty tough to fire someone after you win the whole thing."

The Pete Principle: From Brad Gilbert, who lost to Sampras last Sunday in the final of the Japan Open: "He is the top candidate to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open."

Wimbledon? U.S. Open? Isn't it still April?

Add Pete: Sampras is the fourth American to be ranked No. 1, joining Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Courier.

Only 11 players have reached No. 1 since the advent of the computer rankings in 1973 and Sampras is the fourth youngest.

The youngest? McEnroe, who was 21 years and 15 days old when he reached No. 1 on March 2, 1980.

Sampras turned 21 last Aug. 12.

Last Add Pete: Chances are that Sampras can hold on to No. 1 for awhile. In the next two months, the only computer points that Sampras is losing are 152 from last year's French Open while Courier must replace 180 from Hong Kong, 362 from Rome and 639 from the French Open.

Good game, bad body: He was No. 15 when he left and he's No. 54 now. Why? The problem with Aaron Krickstein always has been that his body breaks down more than his game does. Krickstein is 25 with 85-year-old feet. He has had stress fractures in both feet and a pin in his right foot.

After fracturing his left foot again last August in the Volvo/Los Angeles tournament, Krickstein spent months rehabilitating before rejoining the ATP Tour last month at the Lipton, where he lost to Andre Agassi in the second round.

But Krickstein won a tournament in Durbin, South Africa, the next week and managed to defeat No. 20 Alexander Volkov in the semifinals. Although he lost in the first round of a clay-court tournament in Nice last week, Krickstein plans to play on clay in the USTA Clay Courts of Tampa and in Monte Carlo before entering the French Open.

Mats ball: Mats Wilander, 28, is making a comeback. Wilander will be given a wild card into next week's AT&T Challenge in Atlanta, his first tournament in almost two years. Ranked No. 1 in 1988 when he won three of the four Grand Slam events, Wilander is unranked.

C'est dommage (It's too bad): For what it's worth, of the first 155 players ranked on the IBM/ATP computer, the only two who are not entered in the French Open are No. 39 McEnroe and No. 155 Connors.

Monica watch: It has been 56 days since Monica Seles last played a match, a streak that began Feb. 21 when she lost to Martina Navratilova in the Paris Open final.

Seles says she has had a bad case of flu. She is scheduled to play in Barcelona beginning Monday.

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