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Sampras Flunks French Again

Tennis: Quest to win only Grand Slam title that has eluded him ends in defeat to Medvedev.

May 28, 1999|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — There are two things you can count on during the first week of the French Open:

1--Children's Day: Hordes of well-coiffed and sharply dressed schoolchildren scamper around the grounds at Roland Garros.

2--Pete Sampras Day: A relatively anonymous but well-armed and indefatigable soul sends Sampras scampering around the clay court and right out of Roland Garros after a couple of hours.

This year, it was 100th-ranked Andrei Medvedev--a quirky Ukrainian once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world--who left Sampras besieged, and, ultimately bewildered. Medvedev won the second-round match, 7-5, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, in 2 hours 22 minutes Thursday.

It is the fourth time Sampras has lost in the second round here, and this is getting to be something like "Groundhog Day."

Last year, he went out to 97th-ranked Ramon Delgado of Paraguay in straight sets at Court Suzanne Lenglen. Thursday, the second-seeded Sampras--despite making a request to play elsewhere--found himself on that same court, which is considered the slowest of the show courts here by a significant margin.

And so it goes: same court, same result, out in the second round.

Medvedev, 24, is hardly the same player who was ranked fourth in the world and reached the quarterfinals here in 1994. Before the French Open, he had won one match on clay this year and has been struggling with serious inflammation of the wrist.

Still, the match had much more to do with Sampras than Medvedev. After Sampras lost it with a weak forehand return in the net, he shook hands and sat in his courtside chair, putting his head down for a minute or two, another familiar pose at Roland Garros.

"It will be a very tough next four or five days," said Sampras, who had twice as many double faults (10) as aces (five). "All losses hurt, especially at the Slams, they hurt even more. In some ways, I might put more pressure on myself here. I kind of feel it playing out there, like I'm pressing a little bit."

He looked more devastated than angered.

"It's just a numb feeling. I really feel bad," Sampras said.

What hurt him was a loss of focus at a critical juncture in the match, as he dropped five consecutive games at the end of the third set and start of the fourth. The lapse gave Medvedev the third set, 6-4, and a 3-0 lead in the fourth.

"I just can't afford to have 10-15 minutes of a lapse of concentration like I did at the end of the third and into the fourth," Sampras said. "I got down on myself."

Said Medvedev: "We could spend hours talking about what I think Pete would do better on clay."

There is no shortage of advice being offered, as Sampras looked more ill at ease on clay than ever. And at 27, he is quickly running out of time at the only Grand Slam title to elude him.

"I'm never going to give up on it," he said. "But each year that goes by, it gets more difficult. I'm hopefully going to play this game for many years, just keep coming back and trying.

"I would never do that [skip the French]. I've won all the other majors, and this one is my biggest challenge. Challenge is something that I need right now. I'll be back next year and the year after."

His coach, Paul Annacone, concurred. "If there was no hope, there's no sense in coming," he said. "He's 27, it's not like he can't play any more. His history is that he's good about not hitting the panic button. I'm not hitting it."

Winning anywhere might alleviate some concerns, as he has not won an event since October in Vienna.

Now that Sampras has what he called "free time" on his schedule, he said he is thinking about playing Davis Cup in the next round against Australia in Boston in July. The reversal, apparently, came after discussions with captain Tom Gullikson and team members Todd Martin and Jim Courier.

"I don't want to ruffle any feathers with that team," said Sampras, who will make a decision in the next week. "That team went over there [to Great Britain] and won a great tie. It was an inspiration for me to see that."

And, moving on to the topic of French Open inspiration, there remains a symbol of hope for Sampras, an example living in Ecuador.

"Who would have thought [Andres] Gomez would win? And how old was he?" Annacone said. Gomez was 30 when he won in 1990 at Roland Garros. For Sampras, the French Open clock is ticking.

* ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Belgian teen Justine Henin nearly upsets second-seeded Lindsay Davenport. Page 13

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Au Revoir

Pete Sampras at the French Open:

* 1999--Lost in second round to Andrei Medvedev.

* 1998--Lost in second round to Ramon Delgado.

* 1997--Lost in third round to Magnus Norman.

* 1996--Lost in semifinals to Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

* 1995--Lost in first round to Gilbert Schaller.

* 1994--Lost in quarterfinals to Jim Courier.

* 1993--Lost in quarterfinals to Sergi Bruguera.

* 1992--Lost in quarterfinals to Andre Agassi.

* 1991--Lost in second round to Thierry Champion.

* 1990--Did not play.

* 1989--Lost in second round to Michael Chang.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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