| Pete Sampras makes a backhand return against Andy Roddick at Flushing Meadow Friday. (AFP)
New York: Pete Sampras brought the flaming torch of American tennis to the US Open on Thursday night. But instead of passing it to Andy Roddick, he scorched the young pretender.
In a prime time clash of yesterday and tomorrow Sampras proved he was best today, swaggering into the semi-finals of the hardcourt Grand Slam with all the pomp and elan only a great can muster. His 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory spanned just 90 minutes and turned what Roddick had called his dream quarter final into a sweat-inducing nightmare.
The leader of the new guard banging on his door had provided more than enough inspiration for Sampras to storm to a 201st Grand Slam match victory and stretch his perfect night-time record in New York to 20-0.
“Absolutely, it fired me up,” the 31-year-old said as he sat on his courtside seat with cheers ringing in his ears.
“You know, he’s the young up-and-comer who has a great future... I was pumped up, there is no question. I love it here. It is awesome at night in New York.”Sampras, too, was awesome and his performance will have done little to settle the nerves of Sjeng Schalken.
The Dutchman will face Sampras next after earlier beating Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final.
Due on court at 12 midnight (GMT), Sampras and Roddick didn’t show until more than half an hour later as the Flushing Meadow crowd continued to filter in to Arthur Ashe Stadium.
By the time the two Americans began brandishing their rackets, the atmosphere was hair-raising.
Roddick likes it that way, deliberately teasing his locks to stand high above the sun-visor currently in vogue with New York’s fashionistas. He took to the court, unshaven in a bright blue shirt, all grimaces, gestures and lop-sided grins.
Sampras was Sampras, straight as they come. White socks, white shorts, white shirt. Nowadays he has less hair to play with than when he won his first Grand Slam here in 1990 — aged 12 months younger than Roddick’s 20 years — but even in his hirsute heyday, he was never tempted by style statements.
On the tennis court, Sampras has always let his strokes do the talking. For 10 years they spoke louder and longer than anyone else, as he amassed a record 13 Grand Slam titles. Since his 13th major at Wimbledon in 2000, he has not won a title of any description. On Thursday, though, he was irrepressible.
Serving with authority and smothering the net at every opportunity, the 31-year-old outshone the brilliant floodlights on centre stage. Roddick had won both previous matches these two Americans had played, in Houston earlier this year and in Miami last year. Both those matches were in ATP Tour events, however, and by his own admission, they are not what gets Sampras going these days.
DAY X RESULTS
Men’s singles, quarter finals: Pete Sampras (17, US) bt Andy Roddick (11, US) 6-3, 6-2, 6-4; Sjeng Schalken (24, Ned) bt Fernando Gonzalez (28, Chi) 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-2). Men’s doubles quarter finals: Max Mirnyi (3, Blr)/Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) bt Wayne Black/Kevin Ullyett (5, Zim) 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 7-6 (7-4). Semi-finals: Max Mirnyi (3, Blr)/Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) bt Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan (6, US) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; Jiri Novak/Radek Stepanek (11, Cze) bt Jonas Bjorkman (4, Swe)/Todd Woodbridge (Aus) 6-2, 7-6 (7-4). Women’s doubles, semi-finals: Virginia Ruano Pascual (2, Spa)/Paola Suarez (Arg) bt Nadia Petrova (Rus)/Nicole Pratt (Aus) 6-1, 6-3. Women’s doubles, quarter finals: Elena Dementieva (6, Rus)/Janette Husarova (Svk) bt Kim Clijsters (15, Bel)/Meghann Shaughnessy (US) 6-4, 6-3.