- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 3, 2002

NEW YORK Pete Sampras unfurled a backhand return winner down the line and let out an excited yell: "Aaahhh!" The fans responded, applauding and chanting support.

It was tough to tell who was more pleased to see Sampras hit that type of shot again.

Playing in the tournament that's brought out his best during the past two difficult years, Sampras powered into the fourth round by beating Greg Rusedski 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4 last night at a U.S. Open disrupted heavily by rain.

"I hung in there. The crowd was great. It got me going at the end," said Sampras, who had 81 winners and broke 1997 Open runner-up Rusedski's serve in the final game. "It made it a little sweeter with the win. As you get older, those are moments you cherish a little more."

Not since 1988, his first season as a pro, has Sampras failed to make it at least to the fourth round at the U.S. Open. He's won the title four times and been the runner-up three others, including in 2000 and 2001. But the current edition of Sampras isn't the one that captured a record 13 Grand Slam titles. He came into the Open with a 20-17 match record this year and hasn't won a title since July 2000.

"He's a step and a half slow coming into the net. He's just not the same player," Rusedski said. "I lost the match. He didn't win the match tonight. He's not playing that great. I'll be surprised if he wins his next match, to be honest with you."

Sampras, seeded just 17th, now plays No.3 Tommy Haas the man who wasn't allowed to wear his muscle shirt at the Open for a quarterfinal berth.

Andre Agassi is already in the final eight. He beat Jan-Michael Gambill 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 and has dropped a total of 24 games through four rounds.

Because rain wiped out all but less than an hour of play Sunday, and then delayed the start of yesterday's action by more than 7 hours, organizers scrambled to fit in as many matches as possible. It was a rare chance to pick and choose as a range of stars played on courts even tiny ones simultaneously at a major tournament.

Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati both won to move into the quarterfinals, as did No.11 Daniela Hantuchova, who'll next play Serena Williams. Hantuchova got past No.8 Justine Henin 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (4) in a match stopped Sunday in the second set right after Hantuchova hurt her ankle and right thumb in a tumble on a rain-slicked court.

Three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten was placed on Court 10, although not for long: His opponent, Nicolas Massu, quit while trailing 6-1, 5-4, citing right hamstring and groin injuries.

Haas finished his 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Thomas Enqvist, then looked ahead.

"You can never underestimate a player like Pete Sampras. The guy really knows what he wants. The will and the power," the German said. "Maybe he doesn't have the quickness. But if he serves well, it will be tough to beat him."

Yesterday, the 31-year-old Sampras made the types of mistakes he has been for a while, following errant shots by rubbing his forehead or shuffling his feet along the baseline. But Rusedski was often his own undoing. Most damaging: he double faulted twice in the first-set tiebreaker.

The third-set tiebreaker showcased Sampras' best and worst. He took a 4-0 lead with that backhand that elicited his own shout and those of spectators. "It was a big, big point," Sampras said.

At 4-1, though, he tried one of his trademark overhead slams and dumped the ball into the net. He shook his head and smiled.

"I was a little embarrassed. I kind of got overanxious," Sampras said. "You miss a bad shot like that one and you just have to move on."

Both players served brilliantly for stretches, each topping 130 mph. Sampras finished with 17 aces. Rusedski had 19, eroded partly by 10 double faults.

Sampras lost just five points on his serve during the third set and hit one serve so hard it got lodged in the net's webbing. But he had problems handling the speed and movement that serves generate off the racket of Rusedski, who owns the fastest serve in ATP Tour history at 149 mph.

Rusedski, who usually plays quickly, seemed to make a conscious attempt to disrupt Sampras' rhythm. Sampras bristled at the gamesmanship, complaining to the chair umpire.

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