Originally created 05/08/02

Sampras loses in first round in Rome



ROME -- Pete Sampras admits he's having a tough time finding the will to win.

His drought stretched to 25 tournaments without a title Tuesday, when he lost 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3 to Felix Mantilla of Spain in the first round of the Italian Open.

It was Sampras' second straight first-round exit at the Tennis Masters Series event, which is a key French Open tuneup.

He owns a record 13 Grand Slam singles titles but hasn't won a tournament of any sort since Wimbledon in 2000.

"I think breaking the record a couple years ago took a lot out of me," the 30-year-old Sampras said.

"Week in, week out, it's tougher to find that enthusiasm. It's still there - it just takes, you know, playing well and a few breaks here and there, which I need to get."

Tuesday's result doesn't bode well for Sampras' chances at the French Open, which starts May 27. It's the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay - and the only one he hasn't won.

Three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten reached the second round in Rome later Tuesday by beating Davide Sanguinetti of Italy 7-5, 6-3. Kuerten, an Italian Open finalist three straight years, returned to the ATP Tour last week after having hip surgery in February.

Three other seeded players joined No. 12 Sampras on the sidelines Tuesday: No. 5 Tim Henman, No. 8 Thomas Johansson - the Australian Open champion - and No. 11 Roger Federer.

Intent on improving his relatively poor record on clay - a slow surface which tends to dull his stinging serve and volleys - Sampras hired Spanish coach Jose Higueras, a clay-court specialist, earlier this year.

One of Sampras' best showings on clay came in Rome in 1994, when he won the Italian Open.

But Sampras, seeded 12th this year at the Tennis Masters Series event, couldn't solve Mantilla. After the match, the American said winning the French Open is his immediate goal - but added that winning any major at this point would be an accomplishment.

"If the day comes where I could break through and win a major, it could be my best achievement," Sampras said. "It would be a great moment, maybe my greatest. That's why I'm continuing to play.

"My long-term goal is to win a major for the year. That's kind of where I'm at. I'm going to do whatever I can over the course of the next four months to try to win one."

Against Mantilla, Sampras committed errors after long baseline rallies and watched Mantilla produce groundstroke winners and well-controlled drop shots.

Sampras lost his serve early in the first set, then was broken again in the eighth game of the final set. Last year in Rome, Sampras was upset by Harel Levy of Israel in three sets.

Henman was beaten by Fernando Gonzales of Chile 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-0, Johansson was ousted by Arnaud Clement of France 6-4, 6-4, and Federer was eliminated by Andrea Gaudenzi of Italy 6-4, 6-4.

Defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero and fourth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov reached the second round when their opponents retired in the second set.

Ferrero moved on when Rainer Schuettler of Germany quit because of a groin injury while trailing 6-2, 4-3. Schuettler was visited by a trainer twice in the first set. Kafelnikov led Franco Squillari 6-1, 2-0 when the Argentine retired from the match.