Sampras, Hingis Get Wimbledon Wins

Monday, June 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Back in the stadium he calls the ``cathedral'' of tennis, Pete Sampras opened his bid for a seventh Wimbledon title Monday with a straight-sets win over Jiri Vanek.

Showing little sign of the back troubles that bothered him in practice last week, Sampras cruised to a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory — a performance that underlined his dominance in the grass-court tournament in which he has lost only once the last seven years.

``Pistol Pete — Playing for History'' read a big yellow sign held up by fans on Centre Court, referring to Sampras' chase for a record 13th Grand Slam singles title.

Vanek, a Czech ranked No. 84 in the points race and playing his first match at Wimbledon, put up a strong effort but was no match for the man considered perhaps the greatest grass-court player. Monday's win extended Sampras' record to 47-1 dating to 1993, including 32-1 on Centre Court.

Sampras' only scare came early in the second set when he jumped high for one of his patented ``slam dunk'' overheads. He seemed to mistime his leap, slamming the shot into the net and landing awkwardly. Sampras reached for his lower back, suggesting he might have aggravated the ailment that forced him to cut short practice last week.

But Sampras seemed fine as he settled back into his game and cruised the rest of the way, closing the match with a 117 mph service winner.

Sampras said he needed extra time to stretch and warm up because of chilly, 60-degree weather.

``There are a couple of tight spots, but nothing to be alarmed about,'' Sampras said. ``I'm really fine and ready to go.''

As for his pursuit of the Grand Slam record, he said, ``When you're on thee battlefield, you don't think about breaking records.''

Martina Hingis, top-seeded among the women, also opened with an easy victory on opening day of the two-week tournament. But she needed eight match points in the final game before putting away Spain's Angeles Montolio 6-1, 6-2.

Hingis, who won Wimbledon in 1997 as a 16-year-old, overwhelmed her 42nd-ranked opponent. But with Hingis serving for the match at 5-2, Montolio came to life. She began moving the Swiss star from side to side and knocking off winners.

Hingis smiled after the first few match points, but then grimaced and bounced her racket in frustration as each successive chance slipped by.

When Montolio sailed a backhand long on the eighth, Hingis threw up her arms as if to say, ``Finally.''

``I just couldn't finish it off,'' she said. ``She played so well on those match points. She always came up with an amazing winner. I was like, `OK, not much I can do about that.' As long as I always won the deuce points, I was fine.''

Hingis, who lost in the first round at Wimbledon last year to qualifier Jelena Dokic, relished playing the opening match of the tournament on Court 1.

``That's pretty much the way you want it,'' she said. ``Nobody has played on that court before. It's very soft, like a carpet.''

Also advancing were sisters Venus and Serena Williams. Injuries have limited their schedules this year, but both appeared in top form.

Venus, seeded No. 5, is playing only her fourth tournament since last November because of tendinitis in both wrists. She dispatched 41st-ranked Czech Kveta Hrdlickova 6-3, 6-1.

No. 8 Serena, playing her first match in more than 2 1/2 months, scored a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Sweden's Asa Carlsson.

Serena Williams, sidelined since April 11 with tendinitis in her left knee, showed signs of rustiness. But once Williams began hitting freely on her groundstrokes, she was too powerful for the 38th-ranked Carlsson, who has won only one match in eight appearances at Wimbledon.

After Williams hit her fifth ace to close the match, she broke into a wide smile and waved and blew kisses to the fans on Court 3. Williams, last year's U.S. Open champion, reached the third round of Wimbledon in 1998 but pulled out last year with the flu.

``It was good to be out there and get the feel of the court, to get the feel of some matches again,'' Serena said. ``I feel tournament tough. I feel confident. ... This is really my surface. I play a fast game. I should be dominating here.''

No. 11 Richard Krajicek, the 1996 champion and only man to beat Sampras at Wimbledon in seven years, rallied from a first-set setback to down Germany's Michael Kohlmann 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

No. 6 Cedric Pioline, the runner-up in 1997, dropped a set but downed Norway's Christian Ruud 7-6 (4), 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

Among the women, No. 11 Anke Huber was a 7-5, 6-2 winner over Britain's Jo Ward.

Anna Kournikova was leading 10th-seeded Sandrine Testud 6-5 when the tournament was hit by its first rain delay in late afternoon.

On the eve of the tournament, Spaniards Alex Corretja and Albert Costa pulled out in protest at not being among the 16 seeded men's players.

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event that doesn't follow the ATP rankings in determining seedings.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, another Spaniard in top 16 who was not seeded, withdrew earlier with a reported back injury.

The three Spaniards were bumped in favor of players with stronger grass-court records, including Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski — both from Britain — and Krajicek, of the Netherlands.

All England Club chairman Tim Phillips, sympathetic with the Spaniards, said the club would waive any fines.

Sampras called the action by the Spaniards ``childish,'' saying players should enter all the Grand Slams. Sampras said he would be willing to go unseeded at the French Open, where he has often been No. 1 despite his lack of success on clay.