No Rain, but Storm Is Brewing : Tennis: No. 1 Sampras, former No. 1s Edberg and Becker and No. 2 Agassi are semifinalists in Indian Wells tournament.


Saturday was a day of little rain and less drama in the Newsweek Champions Cup tennis tournament, which was dominated by three players who have been No. 1 and one who is going tobe.

The current No. 1, Pete Sampras, led a charge into what could be a Super Sunday of Semifinals, dispatching fellow American Todd Martin, 6-3, 6-4, in 1 hour 18 minutes.

Sampras' opponent in today's opening semifinal, at noon, will be Sweden's Stefan Edberg, who had to endure the only rain delays of the day--as well as always hard-charging Austrian Thomas Muster--to advance.

Edberg, the world's No. 1 player through most of 1991 and '92, looked dead on his feet in the early going, but had a resurrection of sorts during three delays that totaled 30 minutes. He eventually won, 2-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Today's other semifinal will pit Boris Becker of Germany against Andre Agassi. Becker is seeded No. 3, a notch below Agassi.

Becker, who was No. 1 for most of the time in 1991 when Edberg wasn't, made one of his characteristic slow starts against Magnus Larsson of Sweden and then stormed back to win, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

So dominant was Becker after the first set that Larsson managed only two points against his serve in the second and three in the third.

Sampras is No. 1 but must defend points won at this time last year to remain there. If he can't, Agassi, who is No. 2, is ready to move up. He won easily against Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, 6-3, 6-4, in a match that took 1 hour 15 minutes and left Ferreira so frustrated that he drew a code violation late in the second set for kicking the tennis ball against theumpire's chair.

Sampras and Edberg, friendly rivals and even occasional practice partners, have beaten each other six times. The most memorable was Edberg's four-set victory in the 1992 U.S. Open final, Edberg's second U.S. Open title in a row. Edberg, 29, has slipped to No. 16 in the world and isseeded only No. 11 here, but he is still capable of winning major titles.

"Stefan and I have played a dozen times," Sampras said, "and it's usually just a matter of who wakes up in the morning feeling better."

Becker and Agassi, somewhat less friendly rivals, have played 10 times, with Becker winning the first three and Agassi the last seven.

The most memorable was Becker's five-set, two-day thriller in Germany's Davis Cup victory over the United States in 1989 in Munich. The scores of that one were 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4, and Agassi, who hasn't lost to Becker since, remembers nearly every crucial moment of it.

"I was serving for it," Agassi said. "He hit a shot he could barely reach and it landed on the back line. I should have won it there. After that, I choked."

Becker, when asked about the seven-match slump against Agassi and how he might change strategy this time, got a little testy.

"I try not to remember that. . . . I don't think about that," he said. "And I won't answer what I might change."

The Palm Springs area has been among the few in the state to miss much of the rainy weather. Today's forecast is for sunny skies and 76 degrees.

Also, two stormy semifinals.

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