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Sampras Gets the One Break He Needs : Tennis: Edberg gives him a slight opening, and top-ranked player advances to final, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.

March 06, 1994|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INDIAN WELLS — For most of the last two sets of a tense semifinal Saturday in the Newsweek Champions Cup, the world's No. 1 player, Pete Sampras, looked almost helpless against Stefan Edberg's serve.

"That was probably the best he's served against me," Sampras said. "He was hitting a lot of aces, mixing it up. After the first set, I really didn't have any rhythm on my return."

Sampras had won only seven points in the Swede's previous nine service games when Edberg stepped up to serve at 4-5 in the third set.

"I was feeling better and better the longer the match went on," said Edberg, a former No. 1 player who will move from fourth to third when this week's ATP Tour rankings are released Monday.

But at the most critical point in the match, Edberg faltered and Sampras responded, emerging with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory and moving into today's final against Petr Korda.

Korda, seeded 10th, defeated Aaron Krickstein, 6-4, 6-4.

Sampras had won only two points against Edberg's serve in the third set before Edberg punched a backhand volley long and hit a forehand volley into the net to fall behind, 0-30, in the 10th game.

After the forehand, Edberg kicked the ball into the net.

Sampras won the next point with a reflex forehand volley after a brilliant exchange at the net and, and after Edberg saved one match point, Sampras ripped a cross-court forehand return for the match winner.

"When you have love-30 on Stefan, you just have to make him play," Sampras said. "I just kind of reacted to that match point. He hit a great serve, but I just kind of flicked it back."

Edberg, 28, said he won't soon forget the last game.

"I missed the first two volleys to give him the opportunity," he said. "The first one, I definitely should have made, but I was a little bit late. And once he got to love-30, he played a great point to get to love-40. And I hit a great serve at 15-40, but he hit the winner.

"That's just too good.

"I'll be thinking about it a little bit. It's not the end of the world, but it's disappointing--making a few mistakes at an important stage. But that's why he's No. 1. He makes you play those points."

Sampras converted only two of 10 break points.

"But the two is obviously the big part," he said.

Edberg said that Sampras, 22, is "on a confidence roll at the moment," after winning the last three Grand Slam events.

"He knows he can do it," Edberg said. "It's a matter of standing up, serving at 30-40, and deciding, 'This is what I'm going to do,' and then you do it. That's what he's doing very well."

Sampras agreed that his self-esteem is growing.

"I kind of believe in myself much more than, say, when I was 19 or 20," he said. "I think maturity has a lot to do with that and just playing more matches and getting more experience under my belt."

His shot-making ability, of course, is also a factor.

"Against Pete, it almost takes a set to get used to the pace," Edberg said. "He hits the ball so hard, so it's really (difficult). It takes some time to get used to it, for your eyes to get focused on the ball."

Edberg lost four break points in the third game and was broken in the fourth, "but I got into a rhythm in the second set," he said. "He didn't have many chances to break me until the last game."

That's all he needed.

"The return of serve was a big part of the match, and I managed to get those shots when I needed them," Sampras said. "I got a bit lucky today and I'm aware of that. I've got to be pretty thankful."

Only Korda stands in the way of his first Newsweek title.

"I feel ready," Sampras said. "I feel fit and I've been playing well. I don't think I'll have a letdown. I've been in this situation before after a good semifinal win. I should be OK."

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