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Sampras Finally Takes the Fifth Against Novak in Second Round

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

“It was very big atmosphere,” said the widely unrecognized Jiri Novak of the Prostejoe, Czech Republic, Novaks. “The biggest I ever see.”

What he saw as he peered from the floor of a canyon known as the stadium at Flushing Meadow was wall-to-wall people--21,000 of them, enough to fill his hometown and they were screaming widely.

Not on Jiri’s behalf. They were trying to lift a Pete Sampras out of unexpected trouble. Jiri Novak, the No. 47 tennis player in the universe, was the cause of that trouble, and for the second afternoon in a row one of the U.S. darlings of the U.S. Open, the champion, was under the gun.

His second-rounder against the mystery guest, Novak, had come down to the fifth set.

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“I saw Thursday what could happen when Andre [Agassi] was way behind a guy without a reputation,” Sampras said. “Everybody who gets into this tournament can play, can beat anybody else.”

That’s the company line, of course, but it was too accurate for Sampras. Agassi had escaped Leander Paes in a rush of 18 games, finishing with ease. But when Sampras’ franchise weapon, the forehand, continued misfiring and the limber 6-foot-3 Novak grabbed the fourth set, everybody in the house was looking at the determined stranger with russet curls, rousing serve and a rampaging two-fisted backhand, and wondering: Is it Czech-out time for the champ?

It wasn’t. But only, as Sampras said, “because I have more experience in situations like this.” His 2-hour, 36-minute victory--6-3, 1-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4--was sealed with such clutch items as: Jobe-like patience on the critical break point in the fifth game of the fifth, a huge forehand erasing a break point and a timely ace as he served it out, and playing the unfamiliar role of retriever on the electrifying match point.

After all, this was Sampras’ 20th victory in 27 ultimate distance matches, and his five-set record is even better in the majors: 17-3 (4-2 at the Open). This is what champions do: They win when they don’t look like winners.

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“This Novak is young [21] deceptive. He made me work--but I’d never seen him before,” Sampras said. “It took me a while to figure him out, see that his backhand was his best shot. I didn’t think I was gonna lose. I was missing a lot of balls [66 unforced errors] but I knew I’d eventually connect.”

His forehand finally came into sync in the last three games.

“But if I do lose here the season is over. Oh, there are other tournaments I’ll play in Europe. But to me the season is the four majors, and I judge myself on them. I need this one.”

The Edberg watch continued, stirring a nocturnal gathering of 19,814 who hoped that it wouldn’t be the finale for the champion of 1991-92. With glittering volleys and startlingly destructive forehands, Stefan Edberg breathed on, accepting a fourth-set surrender from would-be spoiler Bernd Karbacher, and is into the second week. A pulled left hamstring led Karbacher to quit with Edberg leading, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 1-0, after 1:51.

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Karbacher, a German, must have felt he was in Sweden as cheers of encouragement and feverish applause showered down on the 30-year-old Edberg who has declared this his last major tournament.

“It was great to be treated that way,” Edberg said.

Looming in Sampras’ future (fourth round) is fireballing Aussie Mark Philippoussis, who beat Sampras so completely at the Australian Open. Philippoussis burned Russian Andrei Olhovskiy, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, with 24 aces, giving him a two-round tournament-leading total of 54. His 137 mph missile against Mark Woodforde in the first round was the year’s swiftest.

Fourth-seeded Goran Ivanisevic flubbed away the tie-breaker, but he recovered smartly for a 6-7 (1-7), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, victory over the talented Aussie lefty, Scotty Draper, serving 16 aces, never losing serve.

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In women’s play, Lindsay Davenport stretched her winning streak to 16 in a brief workout against a French teen-ager, Anne-Gaelle Sidot, 6-0, 6-3.

Argentine Gabriela Sabatini, seeded 15th, played a lot of give-away (including 14 double faults) and lost to No. 59, 21-year-old Swede Asa Carlsson, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Featured Matches

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Today’s featured matches at the U.S. Open:

DAY SESSION

Beginning 8 a.m. PDT

STADIUM COURT

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* Men--Vince Spadea vs. No. 2 Michael Chang; No. 6 Andre Agassi vs. Jan Siemerink.

* Women--No. 1 Steffi Graf vs. Natasha Zvereva.

GRANDSTAND

* Men--Arnaud Boetsch vs. Jeff Tarango; David Wheaton vs. Alex O’Brien.

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* Women--Naoko Kijimuta vs. No. 16 Martina Hingis; No. 3 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario vs. Elena Likhovtseva.

NIGHT SESSION

Beginning 4:30 p.m. PDT

STADIUM COURT

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* Women--Anna Kournikova vs. No. 14 Barbara Paulus.

* Men--Sergi Bruguera vs. No. 3 Thomas Muster.


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