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Corretja Finishes Off Sampras

Tennis: No. 1 player makes too many mistakes. Spaniards in final.

November 29, 1998|From Associated Press

HANOVER, Germany — The year of his historic achievement ended less than gloriously for Pete Sampras.

In a match filled with his uncharacteristic errors, the top-ranked Sampras lost to Spain's Alex Corretja, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), Saturday in the semifinals of the ATP Tour World Championship. Corretja saved three match points.

Corretja's victory produced an all-Spanish final at the season-ending $3.5-million championship. Today, Corretja will face his friend Carlos Moya in a rematch of the French Open final.

Moya defeated Tim Henman of England, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. He beat Corretja in straight sets in the French Open in June and has defeated him the last three times they've played.

Despite the loss, Sampras will retain the No. 1 ranking for a record sixth consecutive year.

"It's a tough way to end it," said Sampras, who had been seeking his fifth title in the season-ending finale. "I had mixed emotions, coming so close to winning, being in the final. But the achievement of doing it six years in a row, and the fans giving me a nice ovation, it was a very good feeling.

"But it wasn't the way I wanted to end the year.

"Although I felt I wasn't playing as well as I was through the week, I felt like I was playing well enough to win. He hit some unbelievable passing shots."

But Sampras had 50 unforced errors to Corretja's 19.

Only once before have two Spaniards contested a final on any surface other than clay, and that was earlier this year when Corretja beat Felix Mantilla in Dubai. The ATP Championship is played on an indoor hard court.

"We have been told by people all over the world that we can only play on clay," said Corretja, who is ranked No. 6. "Now they have to show us some respect."

Corretja had not beaten Sampras in three previous matches, including an epic four-hour battle in the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 1996.

The three match points turned into long rallies, and all went Corretja's way, one on his winner, two on errors by Sampras. Sampras netted a simple forehand and dived for a volley on the last one, but it went wide.

"That easy forehand on match point will sit on me for a while," Sampras said.

The loss reflected the kind of mixed year Sampras has had, by his standards. He won Wimbledon and three other titles, but no other Grand Slams.

The last Spanish finalist in this tournament was Manuel Orantes, who won what was then called the Masters in 1976 in Houston.

Although not known for his prowess on indoor courts, Moya reached the semifinals of the championship last year in his first appearance.

Corretja could become the first player to win the event in his first attempt since John McEnroe in 1978.

Moya turned around his match against Henman in the middle of the third set, when he broke the Briton's serve to make it 3-3.

"I played one of my best matches on indoor surfaces," the fifth-ranked Moya said. "I said when I came here that I wanted to win this tournament. Nobody believed me. Now it's just one step away from me."

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