Originally created 01/18/00

Sampras serves notice on fast courts



MELBOURNE, Australia -- In three sets without a single baseline rally, Pete Sampras pranced on the hard, hyper-fast Australian Open center court as if he were back on the grass he loves at Wimbledon.

For those who like power tennis, it was as beautiful as it was brutal. For those who prefer a bit of finesse and touch, it was utterly boring.

Sampras began his pursuit of a record 13th Grand Slam title Monday with a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 victory over Australian Wayne Arthurs in a match that featured the best and worst of high-speed tennis.

They served, they volleyed, then they served and volleyed again. Except for the few passing shots on returns, and the 25 aces and 11 double faults between them, that was it.

Australian Open officials wanted a faster surface this year to give an advantage to Patrick Rafter and Mark Philippoussis, so they gave the go-ahead for a paint job that quickened the rubberized Rebound Ace courts to the speed of grass -- or glass.

Sampras, who said he has never played on such a fast outdoor hard court, certainly wasn't complaining.

"I'm not going to be rallying too much this next week or so," said Sampras, who won six of his 12 major titles on the fast Wimbledon center court. "I'm going to be coming in on both serves and being aggressive. It's a little bit too quick to stay back. I'm treating the match like tonight like I was playing on grass."

The surface would have been perfect for the net-charging Rafter, Sampras said, and his absence because of a shoulder injury removes a major threat.

"Some players like it, some players don't," Sampras said of the courts. "It's obviously in the mind, but I'm sure a lot of players are complaining. I think they can probably slow it down for next year because it's a touch too quick. But there is nothing we can do about it now."

Andrei Medvedev likened the court to an ice rink, but Andre Agassi seemed happy with it. Though a baseliner, Agassi has the reflexes to handle the speed.

"There's no question it is going to be good for his game," Sampras said. "It's going to help out his serve, and he returns so well. He is very tough to beat here. Some of the Spaniards are going to struggle, but because Andre hits the ball so early and so flat, he'll be fine."

Sampras cranked up his hardest serve on the first point of the match against Arthurs, sending an intimidating 130 mph message. Sampras loves to instill a little fear in his opponent right from the start, so he invariably drills his opening serve straight up the middle with all the power he can muster. It hardly matters that his opponents know it's coming. Especially on a surface like this.

Arthurs, a left-hander whose own menacing serve carried him to the fourth round at Wimbledon last year before Agassi beat him in four sets, simply didn't have the volleying prowess that Sampras possesses. That and an 8-3 disadvantage in double faults made the difference in a match where not one groundstroke was struck.