NEW YORK -- Mopping his face between almost every point, four-time champion Pete Sampras slogged sluggishly through a slow-motion, first-round victory Monday as the U.S. Open got off to a sleepy start.
As leaden as Sampras looked, he served well enough to overcome an even slower Martin Damm of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-4.
It was that kind of day at the National Tennis Center, when heavy, muggy weather took a toll on players and fans alike after nearly two hours of rain interrupted matches early in the afternoon.
Sampras, never happy when he has to play in heat and humidity, went through more towels and shirts in his opening match than he usually does in a week. He didn't run much, but he didn't have to, relying instead on his 22 aces and Damm's tendency to make the occasional inelegant error.
Damm obliged in the first-set tiebreaker with an overhead he slugged long for a minibreak to 5-2, and once again a few points later on a double-fault at set point. Damm finished with 12 double-faults to only four by Sampras.
At 5-5 in the second set, Damm did himself in again when he chased down a baseline shot, hit an apparent winner, then watched like a spectator as Sampras flicked a backhand half-volley over the net. Damm's late sprint to the ball cost him the game, and Sampras pumped his fist in his one show of emotion in the match.
Seeded No. 4, his lowest position at the U.S. Open since 1991, Sampras is going for his 14th Grand Slam title after winning his seventh Wimbledon last month.
Torpid performances infected many of the matches, including No. 5 Yevgeny Kafelnikov's 6-7 (5), 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 comeback against 116th-ranked Orlin Stanoytchev.
The women's No. 1 and 1997 champion, Martina Hingis, looked no less listless in beating No. 101 Alina Jidkova 6-3, 6-1, as did No. 9 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in a 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory over No. 63 Joannette Kruger, and No. 8 Nathalie Tauziat in beating Ludmila Cervanova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
No. 15 Jennifer Capriati, seeded at the open for the first time since 1993, played a bit livelier in a 6-4, 6-0 romp over Emmanuelle Gagliardi.
"I think I've established my presence for good, hopefully," she said. "People still say, `Glad to have you back.' It's not so much if I'm going to stay, but what am I going to do? It's just, I'm here. Yeah, I came back, seeded this year. It's definitely different. I like it better like this."
Capriati hardly seems to be a serious threat for the title in a field that includes Hingis, Venus and Serena Williams, and Lindsay Davenport, but she's moving in the right direction.
"Of course I have thoughts of winning it," she said. "I mean that would be the ultimate for me. That is my goal, of course. I'm not going to be satisfied with winning a couple of rounds. I think I have a good chance so, of course, it's going to make my own expectations a little higher."
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