NEW YORK -- It was another tale of big-match woe for Pete Sampras, and this time it helped cost him a place in a U.S. Open final with a shot at the record book.
Sampras' bid to win his 12th Grand Slam singles title was hampered by a strained muscle in his upper left leg and halted in the semifinals Saturday by Patrick Rafter.
Rafter's 6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory sends him into Sunday's title match against fellow Australian Mark Philippoussis.
Sampras was sailing along in the third set when, in the seventh game, he came to the net for a volley. He suddenly doubled over, wincing in pain. Although noticeably limping, he completed the game that took him to 5-2, then left the court and went to the referee's office.
"I'm OK," Sampras said as he walked off the court. Apparently he wasn't.
The No. 1 seed took a 3-minute injury timeout and was treated by ATP Tour trainer Doug Spreen. Sampras received further treatments from Spreen during two later changeovers.
Spreen made another trip to the court after the seventh game in the fifth set, when he once again massaged Sampras' strained left quadriceps, then had the player lie on the court to stretch his leg.
The leg didn't appear to bother Sampras at times, especially on his serve, while at other times he wouldn't go for a shot, as if not to aggravate the injury.
"After the injury, I kind of relaxed," Sampras said, explaining why he began serving better. "I had problems with my serve up to that point. And not being able to move made it more difficult."
It was the sixth time Sampras has reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open, and only the first time he has failed to reach the title match. He is now 13-4 in Grand Slam tournament semifinals during his career.
Surprisingly, it was only the third time this year that Sampras has faced a player who was ranked in the top 10. He has now lost twice -- both times to Rafter. His lone victory came in the last round here when he beat No. 9 Karol Kucera.
By losing, Sampras missed a chance to tie Australian Roy Emerson's mark of most men's Grand Slam singles titles. It also failed to match Jimmy Connors' Open era record of five U.S. Open crowns.
Sampras will retain his world No. 1 ranking despite the loss.
Because of the injury, Sampras said he went for his shots more.
"The court was playing so quick, anything's possible," he said. "I was still hanging in. A couple of little things happen and maybe I can squeak this one out. But he was playing stronger as the match went on."
Sampras has a history of injury and illness at the U.S. Open and other important matches.
"I really don't have an explanation," he said when asked about the timing of his injuries and illnesses.
Two years ago, he vomited on the court during a five-set quarterfinal match against Alex Corretja. Sampras eventually won the title, defeating Michael Chang in the final.
Last November, Sampras strained the tendon in his left calf as the United States lost to Sweden in the Davis Cup final. In the 1995 Davis Cup final in Moscow, Sampras suffered cramps as he led the Americans the victory.
"I take my losses very hard," he said. "But you have to bounce back. Getting hurt adds salt to the wound."
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