Originally created 04/24/98

Sampras crumbles in Monte Carlo clay



MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- Looking nothing like a player intent on reclaiming the No. 1 ranking, Pete Sampras was routed 6-1, 6-1 by Fabrice Santoro at the Monte Carlo Open on Thursday -- his worst loss in eight years.

"I'm pretty stunned," Sampras said. "I really dug myself a big hole. Every aspect of my game was not there. My serve wasn't there. My forehand wasn't there."

It was the third consecutive tournament in which Sampras has lost before the quarterfinals, and his play does not bode well for next month's French Open on clay courts.

"It's definitely not great for the confidence," Sampras said. "There is still a lot of room for improvement. All I can try to do is move on and learn from this and go from there."

Sampras, coming off a convincing victory over Andre Agassi on Wednesday, dropped six straight games in the first set and lost his serve five of seven times in the match.

It was his worst loss since a 6-0, 6-1 defeat in 1990 to Jonas Svensson of Sweden.

"Just a bad day and it showed," Sampras said. "I felt lost out there. Clay is a tough surface. It is kind of lonely out there."

Sampras, ranked No. 2, still has a chance to overtake No. 1 Marcelo Rios. Rios has an injured elbow and is not playing at this tournament, meaning the Chilean will forfeit the top spot.

However, Petr Korda, ranked No. 3, could leapfrog Sampras and Rios to No. 1 if he makes it to the title match. The Czech did his part Thursday, beating No. 14 seed Albert Costa 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in another third-round match. Korda, the second seed, squandered a 5-0 lead in the first set.

If Korda loses before the final, Sampras returns to No. 1. Sampras has been No. 1 at the end of the last five years.

"At this point, sure, it would be nice to get back up there," Sampras said. "But I know deep down that it comes down to the end of the year."

Sampras, the top seed, gave away 37 points of the 60 total points that Santoro won. Santoro, a Frenchman ranked 25th in the world, committed just eight errors.

Sampras made less than 40 percent of his first serves, and Santoro matched him in aces at two each. Santoro kept Sampras off balance with angled shots.

"I saw that he had big problems," Santoro said. "He wasn't able to hit his forehand. This is a handicap for him because he makes most of his points with his forehand. At the end of the first set, I saw that he felt that if he continued that way, he would have no chance against me."

Santoro has made a habit beating Sampras on clay as well as beating big names at Monte Carlo. Agassi and Santoro on the only players to beat Sampras three times on clay.

The Frenchman beat Sampras at the Italian Open in 1991 and 1995. Santoro also holds victories over Thomas Muster and Sergi Bruguera at Monte Carlo. Muster and Bruguera have five Monte Carlo and three French Open titles between them.

Santoro next faces compatriot Cedric Pioline. Pioline, who lost to Sampras in last year's Wimbledon final, defeated last year's French Open winner, Gustavo Kuerten, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1

Semi-retired Boris Becker routed Marc Philippoussis 6-1, 6-1 to move into the quarterfinals against No. 12 seed Alberto Berasategui, a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 winner over Slava Dosedel.

Becker blunted another big server in Philippoussis a day after beating Greg Rusedski.

"Against a player like Philippoussis, I am better from the backcourt," Becker said. "I know that if I move him around I have a chance and that's what I did."

It is Becker's first quarterfinal since Wimbledon when he said he was retiring from Grand Slam play.

In other third-round matches, No. 14 seed Carlos Moya upset No. 4 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the French Open winner two years ago, 6-2, 6-3; No. 6 seed Alex Corretja, last year's finalist, beat Andrea Gaudenzi 7-6 (7-1), 6-4; and No. 7 Richard Krajicek, the 1996 Wimbledon champion, topped Bohdan Ulihrach 6-4, 6-0.