Out on Court 16, far from the huge crowds watching Jim Courier and John McEnroe charge inexorably toward a U.S. Open collision, new teen phenom Chanda Rubin blossomed and Wimbledon finalist Goran Ivanisevic wilted.
Third-seeded Pete Sampras, 1990 Open champion, almost tumbled out in the third round Saturday night, but survived a serious scare against No. 93 Todd Martin to win 7-6 (7-1), 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in over 31/2 hours of scintillating tennis.Sampras, the hottest player lately with titles in three of his last four tournaments, got frozen at the net time after time by Martin's crafty lobs as the third-year pro came within a game of winning at 5-4 in the fourth set. But Sampras held at love with an ace, broke Martin with a backhand pass down the line and closed out the set at love.
Martin broke for a 2-0 lead in the fifth set, lobbing once again at 15-40 and watching Sampras plunk the ball into the net. Sampras dug in, broke back with a backhand pass that clipped the net and jumped over Martin's racket. Sampras broke again to 3-1 and led 5-3 when Martin saved the first of four match points with an ace. After Martin held, Sampras closed it out with a service winner.
"I started out playing very tight," Sampras said. "I've been playing well all summer, but I came out a little flat. But I found a way to win, and that's what you have to do. It was a very strange match."
Rubin, 16, dashed around the court, blasting from the baseline and charging the net on occasion, in beating No. 15 Katerina Maleeva 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in a third-round match. Two other Maleevas loom in Rubin's path, the eldest, No. 9 Manuela in the next round, and the youngest, unseeded 17-year-old Magdalena in the quarterfinals.
Next up on the same court, Ivanisevic, the fifth seed and runner-up to Andre Agassi in a thrilling Wimbledon championship match, played sick, tired and sapped of strength in a 6-4, 6-0, 6-3 loss to Alexander Volkov.
Ivanisevic couldn't figure out what was wrong with him, ticking off such possibilities as a virus, too much tennis, an aversion to American food, the city air.
"Here food is not good. If you eat those McDonald's cheeseburgers hamburgers, you go to the hospital forever," the Croatian complained in his deep, deadpan voice. "I went to some Italian restaurant, but I don't know. Probably the air, something is wrong."
Agassi, No. 8, had no problems on the stadium court, easily overpowering Jan Siemerink 6-2, 6-3, 6-3, and next faces No. 10 Carlos Costa, a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 victor over Omar Camporese. The winner goes on to the quarterfinals against the winner of Courier-McEnroe in the fourth round.
Courier, the top seed and winner of two Grand Slam events this year, had a tough time beating No. 60 Cedric Pioline 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. McEnroe, meanwhile, cruised to a 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Richard Fromberg.
"I really wanted an opportunity to play Courier," McEnroe said. "It's a chance to play the top player in the world. Then after that I'd probably have to play Agassi. That would be having to play the best and the two favorites here. It's a test for me. I'll let it hang out and see what happens."
Steffi Graf, the second seed, won her third match without dropping a set, 6-4, 6-2 over Nanne Dahlman.
Rubin, who won the juniors tournament at Wimbledon in July and had never played any of the Maleevas before, notched her biggest victory since turning pro a year ago.
Where some players might feel nervous and others confident leading 5-4 in the third set, Rubin said she felt sheer relief after coming from behind in the eighth game and tying at 4-4.
"Then it was kind of like, you know, I can do this," said Rubin, from Lafayette, La. "The match is right here, just play every point, don't think about match point."
Rubin said she never felt the pressure to match the development of players in her age bracket, like Jennifer Capriati, a semifinalist at 15 here last year and a third-round loser this year.