Midway through the final set in his third-round match at the Australian Open, a weary Pete Sampras made for the shade and took a seat in a lineswoman's chair.
"Felt like I was playing on hot coals," he said.
With sunny, 93-degree weather and Sampras engaged in his third three-hour match this week, it was no wonder he wanted to sit. That he was able to get up again was perhaps surprising.
After his brief respite, Sampras closed out a comeback victory today, beating Juan Ignacio Chela 6-4, 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in 3 hours, 8 minutes.
Defending Champ Agassi Beats Prinosil
That made 9 hours, 26 minutes, of tennis for the third-seeded Sampras. With a match against Todd Martin next, followed by a likely showdown against Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals, it was uncertain how much stamina Sampras had left.
"I've seen him win Slams injured, so I don't buy any of it," Agassi said. "If he's tired or not, you've got to beat him. If he's injured or not, you've got to beat him. One of the things he has proven over the past decade is that it's not easy to do. He's had three opponents that have figured that out the hard way."
The sixth-seeded Agassi, who followed Sampras on center court, caught a break when his opponent, David Prinosil, retired because of heat exhaustion after about an hour. Agassi overcame a 6-2 deficit in a first-set tiebreaker and led 7-6 (11), 5-0 when Prinosil quit.
"It would have been nice to finish," Agassi said. "But he's OK and I'm on to the next round, so that's all good."
Agassi, the defending champion, has needed only 4 hours, 5 minutes, in his three matches. His next opponent is crowd-pleasing Australian Andrew Ilie, who has celebrated each of his three victories this week by ripping off his shirt and throwing it into the stands.
Sampras Is Going for 13th Grand Slam
Other matches in the round of 16 will pit No. 2-seeded Marat Safin against No. 14 Dominik Hrbaty, and No. 8 Tim Henman against No. 12 Patrick Rafter.
Henman escaped the heat by playing at night, and he beat Australian Wayne Arthurs 6-3, 6-2, 0-6, 6-2. In a women's match, No. 4 Monica Seles defeated Emilie Loit 6-3, 7-5.
Women's round-of-16 matchups include No. 2 Lindsay Davenport against No. 15 Kim Clijsters; No. 8 Anna Kournikova against Barbara Rittner; No. 12 Jennifer Capriati against Marta Marrero; and Seles against 18-year-old Belgian Justine Henin, who already has won two tournaments this year.
The completion of the third round was scheduled for Saturday, with 12 seeded men and 12 seeded women still in the draw.
That included Sampras, who is trying to add to his record 13 Grand Slam titles. He hasn't won a major tournament other than Wimbledon in three years, and he hasn't played this week like he's a threat for his third Australian Open title.
But that can change.
"Any time I'm still in the tournament, I feel like I get my game going at the right time," he said. "The second week of a Slam historically is when I play my best."
Sampras must win one more match to get to the second week. He's 17-2 against Martin, with 13 wins in a row since 1995. No wonder he grinned when asked about the matchup.
"We're both recently married," he said. "So we'll swap photographs."