It was a night of paybacks for Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport, each of them conquering a personal tormentor and edging closer to regaining the U.S. Open titles they once held.
For the four-time champion Sampras, it was the sweet 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-2 defeat Wednesday night of Richard Krajicek, who had the best record against him of any active player and was the only man to beat him at Wimbledon in the past eight years.
For Davenport, the women’s titlist in 1998, it was a 6-4, 6-2 quarterfinal rout of defending champion Serena Williams that ended a string of five straight losses to her over the past three years.
Sampras moved into the semifinals against Lleyton Hewitt, a 19-year-old Australian who is seeking to become the youngest winner since Sampras won his first title in 1990.
Miracle Comeback in Tiebreaker
The 6-foot-5 Krajicek, who beat Sampras en route to winning Wimbledon in 1996 and had held a 6-3 record against him, sought to impose his big serve on Sampras once again. He did just that in the first set and wound up with 23 aces, but the match turned on a spellbinding comeback by Sampras from 2-6 in the second-set tiebreaker.
Facing four set points, Sampras saved them all. First came a spectacular drop volley that nicked the net cord. Next there was a forehand return that Sampras mis-hit but saw land safely for a winner. He then drilled a perfect backhand pass into the corner and pumped his fist to the crowd.
When he saved number four with an approach shot that Krajicek netted, and followed it up with a service winner and a sizzling return winner to close out the set, Sampras delivered an uppercut to the air that might as well have been straight to Krajicek’s jaw.
“It was his tiebreaker, somehow,” said Krajicek, who couldn’t figure out how it slipped away. “It was meant to be that he would win that set. I don’t know.”
‘I Thought I Was Gone’
The match was virtually over right there as Krajicek sagged visibly and Sampras kept up the pressure.
“I thought I was finished. I was getting outplayed,” said Sampras, now 14-0 in night matches at the open. “Richard puts a lot of pressure on my service game. I thought I was gone. Richard always plays me tough. After I won the second set, Richard got a little down. The second set turned the match around. I was making him play. It was a big match.”
The Davenport-Williams match was big, too, but unexpectedly one-sided.
Williams fractured her racket on the court as her game fell apart, and Davenport emerged from the shadows as a forgotten former champion to a berth in the semis.
Williams, the defending champion who was so eager to meet her sister, Venus, in the final, succumbed to her own impatience and Davenport’s deep, sizzling groundstrokes in a rout that took everyone by surprise.
Everyone except Davenport.
Davenport never fell for all the hype over a Williams sisters final, never worried about her record against Serena—five straight losses over the past three years.
Clearing ‘the Hurdle’
“It feels great to get over the hurdle of beating her,” Davenport said. “It was a big match to get through, but I’m only into the semis and I look to keep going.
“There’s no revenge. I’m going to lose to her again and I’m going to beat her again.”
Williams said Davenport’s performance was “the best she ever played against me. She should take that attitude toward everyone.”