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.”
Three of their matches were close three-setters, including their semifinal meeting at the U.S. Open last year, and Davenport knew that she could beat Williams if she could hold serve, keep the pressure on her and pin her to the baseline.
That’s exactly what Davenport did, and Williams finally cracked at 4-4 in the first set, slapping forehands long on the final two shots of her service game and screaming in frustration as she was broken.
“When I broke her at 4-all it seemed to deflate her,” Davenport said. “She had break points and didn’t take advantage.”
Williams rapped her racket on the court, but not nearly as hard as she did in the next game when she netted a backhand for a second set point. The racket frame broke this time, leading to an automatic code violation for racket abuse, and for all practical purposes her game was undone, too.
Another backhand error by Williams gave Davenport the set, and Davenport went on to win six straight games and take a 4-0 lead in the second set as Williams lost control of her shots. It wasn’t a case of Williams simply missing close shots. She was too excited, too caught up in trying to blow Davenport away with power, and she never found a backup plan.
“I played exactly the way I wanted to,” Davenport said. “I was aggressive when I needed to be. She thinks she didn’t play well. I thought I played well to make her not play well.”
Williams never quit, and saved five match points to hold serve to 5-2, but that was her last stand. Never broken in the match, Davenport served it out in the next game.
Davenport will play Russia’s 18-year-old Elena Dementieva, who upset No. 10 Anke Huber 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, in the semifinals.
“She plays it very simple, but she doesn’t make a lot of stupid errors,” Huber said.
Sister Act on Hold
Williams insisted that she and Venus, the Wimbledon champion who will play Martina Hingis in the other semifinal on Friday, will be in a Grand Slam final together some day.
Told that Hingis and Davenport had a discussion about not wanting to see an all-Williams final, Serena said she wasn’t surprised.
“Not at all,” she said. “That’s the way a lot of people would want it. I’m sure a lot of people never want to see an all-Williams final. It’s going to happen in the future inevitably. Nobody’s going to be able to stop it.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t pull my end up this year. I’m going to do my utmost to make sure it happens ... because that just what I would like. Obviously, no one would want to see an all-Williams final because everyone doesn’t really like us. That’s just the way it is.”
Pressed about why she thought the other players might not like them, Williams got annoyed, said “I don’t know,” and abruptly walked out of the news conference.
Hewitt, seeded No. 9, beat Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 Wednesday to become the youngest men’s semifinalist since Sampras during his title run in 1990. Sampras was also 19 at the time, but five months younger.
With four tour titles this year and a victory over Sampras on the grass at Queen’s Club just before Wimbledon, Hewitt is hardly a surprise to have gone this far at the open. Yet, he said he didn’t believe at the start that he had a real shot of winning his first Grand Slam title.
“I didn’t come here to win it,” he said. “It would probably have been a bit stupid for me to come out and say, ‘I’m going to win the tournament’ when I haven’t made the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam going into this event.
“That’s not really realistic coming here and saying I’m going to knock off Agassi, Sampras, Krajicek, whoever, win this tournament (against) all these great champions who have been in that situation before. I definitely gave myself a chance of making the second week, being seeded here, knowing that these courts do suit my game, with the humidity and the conditions. But it really has been a bonus to make it through to the semifinals now.”