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Sampras Stunned by “Scud” Missiles, Loses No. 1 Ranking

January 20, 1996

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ As fast as 29 aces flew past a stunned Pete Sampras, that wasn’t the only reason for a whipping in the Australian Open Saturday night that cost him the No. 1 ranking.

It was the way Mark Philippoussis, a taller, stronger, younger Aussie-Greek clone of Sampras, never relented in any manner, never gave Sampras a chance to take charge.

In a zone of his own throughout a 6-4, 7-6 (11-9), 7-6 (7-3) third-round victory, the kid called ``Scud″ produced the most stunning win by an Australian since Pat Cash captured Wimbledon in 1987.

At 19, Philippoussis put on a show of power tennis reminiscent of Sampras when he became the youngest U.S. Open men’s champion at the same age in 1990.

``I didn’t have a sniff at getting a serve back,″ said Sampras, who barely beat Philippoussis in four sets at the U.S. Open last September. ``When he’s serving that big, there’s nothing you can do.″

Fans gasped and giggled at the speed of Philippoussis’ serves, up to 129 mph, and the distinctive thud of his forehand when he’d take a full windup, let out a loud, ``AAARGH,″ and slug it into the corners. No one in tennis hits the ball harder and, on this night, no one could have been more precise.

``I felt like I could just toss it up and ace how I wanted to,″ Philippoussis said. ``It was an unbelievable feeling ... I did feel like I was in the zone.″

Philippoussis’ biggest struggle was trying to contain his soaring emotions, especially on the final point.

``My hand was shaking when I was just about to serve,″ he said. ``I was just happy to get the serve in.″

Sampras netted a backhand on that serve, setting off a throaty roar by the crowd that lasted several minutes as Philippoussis paraded around the court with his arms raised.

They played with the retractable roof closed, though the day’s rain had long stopped, and Sampras felt that gave Philippoussis an advantage.

``The fact that it was indoors made his serve that much better,″ said Sampras, who often stared at the imprint the aces made on the court as if he couldn’t believe how they clipped the corners. ``It’s an outdoor tournament. It would have been nice to have that roof open if it wasn’t raining.″

But Sampras, who served only five aces, didn’t use that as an excuse.

``He was just on today, plain and simple,″ said Sampras, whose No. 1 ranking will go to either No. 2 Andre Agassi or No. 3 Thomas Muster when the tournament ends. At the moment, with both of them in the fourth round, Muster is in the lead for the top spot.

``It’s obvious he’s very talented,″ Sampras said of Philippoussis. ``Time will tell if he can be that consistent. When I played him at the U.S. Open, he had his ups and downs that I was able to take advantage of. Today he didn’t give me those opportunities.″

Sampras, who was seeking his third straight Grand Slam title after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, couldn’t capitalize on the solitary break-points he had in each of the first two sets. He won only five points overall on Philippoussis’ serve in the third set.

Philippoussis played superbly at the net and from the baseline, mixing up speeds, showing touch as well as strength, beating Sampras at his own serve-and-volley game.

``We both are Greek, that’s similar, and we both serve well and go for our shots,″ Sampras said. ``I think he takes a lot more chances than I did at 19. I was still green at that point, and so is he. But he’s got the game and the strength to overwhelm you. You just hope that throughout a three-of-five set match you have a sniff or a crack in his game where he misses some shots. He never did tonight.″

Two weeks ago, Philippoussis lost in the first round of a tuneup in Sydney to Britain’s Tim Henman, who called him ``one-dimensional.″ Philippoussis studied a tape of that match, agreed he ``looked stupid″ by overpowering everything, and made adjustments when he arrived in Melbourne.

``He made me feel like a king tonight,″ his coach, Nick Bollettieri, said. ``Pete must have said, `What am I playing against?′ ″

Bollettieri had made plans to leave Sunday, figuring Philippoussis would lose. Now, he’ll be sticking around at least until the next match against Mark Woodforde, an equally popular Australian.

Asked about that match, Philippoussis said: ``Am I playing Mark? I’ve got no idea. I didn’t look past Pete.″

Bollettieri sent Philippoussis a letter last month, telling him not to worry about his rankings or the expectations of everyone around him.

``I told him to just forget about everything and build for the year,″ Bollettieri said. ``You have to put it into proper perspective. It’ll take a couple of years for him to develop. You can’t call him a star player right now. Maybe in a couple of years you can.″

Philippoussis will be called a star a lot sooner than that if he plays the rest of the Australian Open the way he did against Sampras.

``Everyone is going to expect him to win the tournament, and the way he’s playing, he can,″ Cash said. ``If the world No. 1 can’t win a set off him, who can?″

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