- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

NEW YORK For the second straight year, Pete Sampras held a trophy over his head.

And once again, it wasn't the one he wanted.

Sampras' resurgent romp through the U.S. Open came to an abrupt and unsatisfactory end yesterday, as he was dusted by Lleyton Hewitt 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-1 in the final before 23,960 on a windy afternoon at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

With the victory, the 20-year-old Hewitt captured his first Grand Slam title, becoming the first Australian to win the U.S. Open since Patrick Rafter in 1998.

"It's unbelievable," Hewitt said. "I've dreamt of this moment. It hasn't sunk in."

For Sampras, a four-time U.S. Open champion, the loss was a disappointing coda to a run that saw him down three consecutive former winners in a bid to

add to his record 13 Grand Slam titles.

"It was a good run," Sampras said. "Unfortunately, I ran into a guy that was a little too good."

More like a lot too good. Though the match was a redux of last year's semifinals won by Sampras it looked more like the subsequent championship, in which Russian Marat Safin, then 20, unceremoniously pulverized his elder in three laughably uncompetitive sets.

This time around, it was Hewitt's turn to make Sampras look old. A speedy, tenacious baseliner think vintage Michael Chang, with more pop the No. 4 seed simply teed off on Sampras' previously untouchable service game.

Though Sampras entered the match with an 87-game streak of service holds a U.S. Open record Hewitt broke him an astonishing six times, starting with the first game of the match.

Hewitt's return dominance was perhaps unsurprising: Last season he ranked in the ATP top 10 in all four return of service categories, leading the tour in break points won.

"The way he returned and passed was the best I've ever seen," Sampras said. "And I've played them all … I'd put him and Chang in the same league. But I think Lleyton possesses a bit better game."

Time and time again, Hewitt gunned net-skimming return winners, both crosscourt and down the lines. In the first game, he smoked a forehand pass to earn a break; up 4-3 in the first set tiebreak, he crushed a backhand winner on another Sampras serve; on match point, he ripped a perfectly placed backhand pass.

Even when Sampras managed to get his racket on Hewitt's passing shots, Hewitt made him hit second volleys shots that invariably fell short or wide.

"He was unbelievable," Sampras said. "The kid is so quick. I wish I had some of those legs for this old guy."

Prior to the match, Sampras said he felt energetic, even ready to play twice if necessary. But as had been the case so many times during Sampras' 17-tournament title drought the longest of his career Sampras looked every bit of his 30 years. And then some.

Shoulders slumped, stride lethargic, his hairline a patchy thicket of faded glory, the No. 10 seed was unable to summon the form that carried him to tournament wins over Rafter, Andre Agassi and Safin. Forehands died in the net, unwanted and unloved. Backhands sailed long, rogue satellites in an unintended orbit.

With Sampras trailing 4-1 in the second, Hewitt wound up for a topspin lob pass. As Hewitt struck the ball, Sampras turned and walked away even though he could have easily chased the ball down. Television commentator John McEnroe dubbed the play worthy of the "senior tour."

"Thirty isn't that old," Sampras said. "I still feel like I have many years left. I had a chance to win last year and this year. I just ran into two guys on fire."

Following the first set tiebreak, a visibly agitated Sampras took out his frustration on chair umpire Norm Chryst, calling him "pathetic." Overall, it was Sampras' worst defeat at the U.S. Open since a fourth-round loss to Jay Berger in 1989.

"It certainly was a tough draw," Sampras said. "I worked hard to get here. It's disappointing. I put a lot of weight on these tournaments."

Hewitt, who will move to No. 3 in the ATP champions race, leads the tour with 64 match wins this season. En route to the championship, he endured ongoing fallout from his racially tinged on-court comments made during a second round victory over American James Blake.

He also survived a hard-fought quarterfinal match with American Andy Roddick that ended in controversy when Roddick yelled at the chair umpire during the fifth set.

"He had to deal with a lot of distractions, which you don't want to do when you're trying to win a slam," Sampras said. "He's a mentally tough guy. He's a fighter. That's how he wins matches. He put everything aside and focused on what he had to do out there."

When it was over, Hewitt lifted his arms in triumph, then provided a moment of unintended comedy by falling backward on his rear. After sharing a kiss with his girlfriend, women's quarterfinalist Kim Clijsters, he held the champion's trophy aloft.

"I'm standing next to Pete Sampras in the championship presentation, and he's getting the runner-up trophy," Hewitt told an Australian television reporter. "It's unbelievable"

Pondering what might have been yet again Sampras could only concur.

"To be at this point and not get the grand prize is a little deflating," he said. "Ultimately, what you want is the title."

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