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TENNIS / CHAMPIONS CUP : Sampras Welcomes New Rivalry

March 06, 1995|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

INDIAN WELLS — Tennis pundits have been calling in recent years for rivalries to develop so that fans might gain a sense of drama and suspense over the sport's long and diffuse season.

This week's $1.8-million Newsweek Champions Cup at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort will offer a glimpse of a future rivalry in men's tennis, as No. 1 Pete Sampras competes in the same event as No. 2 Andre Agassi, with no less than the top ranking on the line.

Agassi has a chance to overtake Sampras and become No. 1 for the first time, if he wins the event and if Sampras, the defending champion, collapses early. The first scenario is likely, but the second is not.

Sampras should have put to rest all doubt about his ability to overcome adversity with his match against Jim Courier at the Australian Open. In that context, a rivalry with Agassi would be welcome.

"It's good for the game," Sampras said. "We've definitely been needing a rivalry the last couple of years. Andre is a very well-known athlete. . . . It will bring out the best in both of us; American tennis is the best it's been in history."

Three of the top five players in the men's rankings are Americans, with Michael Chang No. 4. Sampras, Agassi and Chang, plus countrymen Todd Martin and Jim Courier, join a deep field for the tournament, which begins today and runs through next Monday.

Also in the field are Boris Becker and Michael Stich of Germany, Alberto Berasategui of Spain, Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine and Stefan Edberg and Magnus Larsson of Sweden.

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