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TENNIS ROUNDUP : Sampras, Becker in Improbable Italian Final

From Associated Press

Pete Sampras and Boris Becker in a clay-court final? Improbable, but true.

Sampras has won only one minor clay-court event in his career. Becker has never won a title on clay. One will erase that blemish on his career today because each advanced Saturday to the championship match of the Italian Open, a clay-court event in Rome that serves as the main tuneup for the French Open.

Top-seeded Sampras extended his match winning streak to 26 by routing unseeded Slava Dosedel, 6-1, 6-2, in barely more than an hour.

Eighth-seeded Becker outplayed No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic, 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), to reach his first clay-court final in three years.

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The Italian Open used to be a haven for Latin American and European clay-court specialists, but the red clay has been speeded up to benefit serve-and-volley and all-court players, such as Sampras and Becker.

“The conditions are very quick,” Sampras said. “That’s good for Boris and me.”

Sampras, the world’s top-ranked player and winner of the last three Grand Slam tournaments, has grown in confidence with each match in his first clay-court event of 1994.

“He’s the man to beat right now,” Becker said. “He’s beating everybody. It doesn’t matter whether it’s indoors, outdoors, on hard courts or clay. I have to expect the worse and hope for the best. But there’s definitely a way to beat him. He’s no superman.”

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Sampras leads Becker, 4-3, in head-to-head meetings, but the two have never played each other on clay.

Becker said he has discovered the way to win on clay.

“I’ve played very good clay-court specialists this week,” he said. “I didn’t have to serve 20 aces each game to win. I won with smart tennis.”

That meant steady, unspectacular play that showed patience and wore down Ivanisevic.

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“At 6-2, 3-0, he didn’t have a clue what was going on,” Becker said.

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Steffi Graf passed the $14-million mark in prize money and reached the final of the German Open at Berlin by sweeping past third-seeded Jana Novotna, 6-2, 6-3.

The top-ranked Graf, a seven-time German Open champion, faces Brenda Schultz, who ousted Anke Huber, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, behind a powerful serve.

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“Today I was just more concentrated and felt better,” Graf said, acknowledging erratic play that had plagued her during a quarterfinal match against Julie Halard in which Graf was two points from losing.

Schultz, ranked 27th in the world, reached the final of a major tournament for the first this year.

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Despite playing on a slow surface at Coral Springs, Fla., sixth-seeded Luiz Mattar of Brazil used his serving prowess to move into the final of America’s Red Clay Tennis Championships with a 6-4, 6-4, victory over Mark Woodforde.

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Only last week, Woodforde had defeated Mattar, 6-1, 6-1, on clay at Pinehurst, N.C.

In his second final of the year, and his first on clay in a nine-year career, Mattar, 30, will play seventh-seeded Jamie Morgan of Australia, a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (9-7) winner over Fernando Meligeni.

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Maggie Simkova of USC upset third-seeded Angela Lettiere of Georgia, 6-3, 6-4, but Georgia defeated the Trojans, 5-2, to reach the quarterfinals of the team competition in the NCAA women’s tennis tournament at Athens, Ga.

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Florida defeated UCLA, 5-2.


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