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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sampras, Agassi Wins Restart Rivalry




HANNOVER, Germany -- Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras set up an appetizing duel when they cruised to impressive victories in their opening ATP Tour world championship matches Tuesday.


Sampras hinted that his injury worries were over at last with an impressive 6-2, 6-3 demolition of Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten while Agassi took just over an hour to blow away Ecuador's world No. 8 Nicolas Lapentti 6-1, 6-2.


The two Americans, drawn in the same group of four, were to pit their skills against each other Wednesday.


Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov beat American Todd Martin 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 in the day's other match.


Sampras, who has been struggling with back pain and has played only one match in the past three months, outclassed Kuerten in a match lasting just 53 minutes.


After displaying his trademark attacking game and delighting the Hannover crowd with acrobatic shots, Sampras said he had felt no signs of the back pain that forced him out of the U.S. Open and has hampered him ever since.


"It's a great feeling to play without pain," the Wimbledon champion said. "I made a cautious start, but I soon realized everything was okay, and I got more and more confident. I played really well."


Lapentti, who has risen from 92nd at the start of the year to qualify for the Hannover tournament for the first time, could do very little to counter Agassi's blistering returns and powerful groundstrokes.


Agassi, who will end the year in the top spot regardless of how he fares here, was pushed to three sets by Lapentti when they last met in the Paris Open semifinal earlier this month.


But he was in control throughout on Tuesday and did not show any sign of nerves until the final game in which he wasted four match points before sealing victory with a fierce smash.


The Las Vegan, looking forward to ending his remarkable year in winning fashion, said he was excited about meeting his long-time rival Wednesday.


"It's a bit strange to meet him so early in a tournament but playing Pete is always special," he said.


World No. 2 Kafelnikov, who has not missed the ATP Tour world championship since 1995, alternated brilliant winners and clumsy errors against U.S. Open finalist Martin.


The Australian Open champion fought back from 2-0 down to take the first set but collapsed in the second, allowing Martin to build a 4-0 lead.


Kafelnikov picked up his game in the decisive set, moving 3-0 up before waiting for a nervous Martin to hit a backhand volley into the net on match point.


The tournament is played under a round-robin format with the first two in each group of four advancing to the semifinals.