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Sampras Falls At Italian Open


Pete Sampras looked every bit the stranger on clay.

In a tuneup for the French Open - the only major on clay and the only major he has yet to win - Sampras lost to Brazil's Fernando Meligeni 6-3, 6-1 in the second round of the Italian Open on Wednesday night.

"I have to get back to the drawing board," said Sampras, who is preparing for the French Open on May 24.

He called the match a "clay court lesson." He was "disgusted" with his game and his inability to adjust to clay.

His biggest weapon, his first serve, was off. Meligeni, ranked No. 58, passed often when Sampras ventured to the net.

He kept Sampras off balance with drop shots, deep forehands to the corners and sharp service returns at the American's feet.

"When you play against Pete, you know you're playing a guy who was No. 1 for six years in a row," Meligeni said. "He's a legend for us."

Andre Agassi had a far more successful day, looking fit and comfortable at Foro Italico.

In his first tournament after a month's layoff, Agassi routed clay-court specialist Alberto Berasategui 6-1, 6-2 to reach the third round and will next play Patrick Rafter.

Agassi, appearing quicker than in some time, attributed his good play to conditioning and "being single." He and actress Brooke Shields are divorcing after two years of marriage.

The 14th-seeded American turned serious when asked if the breakup announced last month affected his tennis.

"The more responsibilities one has in their life, the more difficult it is to do anything 100 percent," Agassi said. "I'm enjoying this stage of my career."

Most of the favorites either by ranking or skill on the slow red clay advanced with ease.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, out to prove he deserves the No. 1 ranking, routed fellow Russian Marat Safin 6-1, 6-2. Kafelnikov will next play 1997 French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten, who beat Francisco Clavet 6-3, 6-3.

Carlos Moya, the reigning French Open champion and seeded sixth, got little more than a workout in ousting French qualifier Arnaud Clement 6-2, 6-1.

No. 4 Rafter defeated Argentine qualifier Gaston Gaudio 6-2, 6-3.

However, No. 5 Richard Krajicek was eliminated by the unseeded Nicolas Kiefer of Germany 6-3, 6-2, and No. 12 Greg Rusedski of Britain, his big serve slowed by the clay, lost to Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 6-3, 6-3.

No. 7 Tim Henman, playing on his least favorite surface, advanced with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands.

Agassi displayed a sharp forehand and changed speeds well against Berasategui, the 1994 French Open runner-up from Spain.

Agassi had pulled out of three straight events with a shoulder injury before coming to Rome.

He dominated Berasategui and showed some grit at a point when he previously might have lost interest in the match. Up 3-1 in the second set, and with hiopponent finally getting on track, Agassi saved four break points. It took the fight out of Berastegui.

"You have to look at the meat and potatoes of the match and I was beating him in every department," Agassi said.

Agassi has captured Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, and was runner-up at the French Open in 1990 and 1991. But his last major final was the 1995 U.S. Open, where he lost to Sampras.

He lost to Rafter on a hard court at last year's U.S. Open.

"Ultimately, to do well on clay, it's a very physical game so you have to be (fit)," Agassi said. "The bottom line is my physical presence on court."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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