Relaxed Sampras wins; Becker, Chang victorious
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ Mentally and physically refereshed after a five-week break, Pete Sampras defeated Michael Stich 6-4, 7-5 today in the Colonial Classic.
Sampras, the world’s top-ranked player, said he is in the right frame of mind to mount a serious bid to win his second Australian Open title later this month.
Sampras, who won the Australian Open in 1994, lost to Mark Philippoussis in the third round at the National Tennis Center. He believes he will be better prepared this time.
The eight-man Colonial Classic is the final warm-up tournament before starts Monday.
The Colonial is played at Kooyong on identical Rebound Ace courts to those used for the opening Grand Slam tournament of the year.
``It’s been quite a while since I played,″ Sampras said after downing Stich, a former Wimbledon champion, in just 68 minutes.
``It was a little bit breezy, but I thought I hit the ball pretty well, served well. Matches are something that I need and this week certainly provides that,″ Sampras said.
``It is a good start and hopefully I’ll be playing my best tennis come Monday or Tuesday.″
The 25-year-old American said he is going into the new season more relaxed mentally than he has been in past years.
``I’ve had a good break,″ he said. ``Not taking anything away from Philippoussis _ he outplayed me last year _ but this year I’m fresh and I feel ready to go. That’s just as important as being physically ready.″
Sampras said three matches at Kooyong are better preparation for the Australian Open than contesting a tournament out of town.
``The court seems like it’s a good speed, very similar (to the Open). It’s ideal preparation,″ he said.
Sampras next faces French Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, who wore bright yellow shoes in his 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 win over American Jim Courier.
Stich, still recovering from a shoulder injury, also was troubled by a strain in his left thigh during the match, but the German said he was satisfied.
``It takes time to get into a match, to find the rhythm, and my shoulder is still not 100 percent, though its getting better every day,″ he said.
``The thigh injury is a little disturbing, but I’m sure it is not a serious injury.″
Boris Becker, who ended 1996 with five titles, a place in the final of the ATP Tour Championship and a victory in the Grand Slam Cup, made a slow start before winning his first-round match 7-6 (7-3), 6-1 over Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine.
Becker, winner of 49 career titles, trailed 2-5 in the opening set before winning in 90 minutes.
``I played pretty well, especially my groundstrokes from the back,″ Becker said. ``I could have served a little better, particularly in the first set, but overall I’m satisfied.″
Becker will face two-time champion Michael Chang of the United States, who defeated Sweden’s Thomas Enqvist 7-5, 6-4 after also trailing 2-5 early.
``As the match went on, I settled in and played better tennis,″ Chang said. ``If you are able to do well against these guys, then it is a great boost going into the Open.″