Sampras sounds a warning

 

THE WORLD number one Pete Sampras hammered out a warning that he's in the mood to win a second Australian Open title by beating Germany's Michael Stich in straight sets at the Colonial Classic exhibition tournament in Melbourne yesterday.

The 1994 Open champion, refreshed after a five-week break, beat the German 6-4 7-5 in the first round of the eight-man tournament, the final warm-up competition before the Australian Open which starts on Monday.

Victory will help Sampras forget his shock defeat in last year's third round at the National Tennis Centre at the hands of big-serving Australian Mark Philippoussis.

"It's been quite a while since I played," Sampras said after downing former Wimbledon champion Stich in just 68 minutes.

"It was a little bit breezy today, but I thought I hit the ball pretty well, served well. Matches are something that I need and this week certainly provides that.

"It is a good start and hopefully I'll be playing my best tennis come Monday or Tuesday."

The 25-year-old American believes he is going into the new season more relaxed than he has been in past years.

"I've had a good break," he said. "Not taking anything away from Philippoussis, he outplayed me last year, but this year I'm fresh and I feel ready to go. That's just as important as being physically ready."

Sampras faces French Open champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, who beat American Jim Courier 7-6 (10-8) 6-4, in the next round.

While Sampras was all smiles, Stich was in discomfort from a left thigh strain, although the 1991 Wimbledon champion shrugged off fears that he might miss the Australian Open.

"It was disturbing me, especially when I served because the left leg is the one I have to push off but I don't think it's a serious injury."

"I haven't had something like this, but I trust my physio, he'll work it up and that it will be gone by hopefully tomorrow."

Stich now has former Australian Davis Cup player Wally Masur as his travelling coach.

"I think it's good that he only stopped playing 12 months ago and he's still very close to the game. He knows what's happening, he knows most of the players, he's very knowledgeable and he's a great competitor and they were the important points for me," said Stich.

"To play against a guy like Pete after not having a lot of matches like today l gave him a fair match and it was close, and he still has those certain advantages, but it still gives me some confidence playing like I did and still losing."

Boris Becker, who ended 1996 with five tiles, a place in the final of the ATP Tour Championship and a victory in the Grand Slam Cup. made a slow start before winning his first-round match 7-6 (7-3) 6-1 against Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine.

Becker trailed 2-5 in the opening set before winning in 90 minutes.

"I played pretty well, especially my groundstrokes from the back Becker said. "l could have served a little better, particularly in the first set, but overall I'm satisfied.

"l put the pressure on him all the time and I didn't give him too many chances to break my serve."

Becker will face two-time champion Michael Chang next, who defeated Swede Thomas Enqvist 7-5 6-4 after also trailing 2-5 in the first.