Sampras the number one hit with fans
AMERICAN Pete Sampras shrugged off the pressure of life at the top of world tennis by opening his Hongkong Salem Open campaign with a businesslike 6-2, 6-4 victory over Frenchman Stephane Simian at Victoria Park last night.
The 21-year-old second seed, who took over from compatriot Jim Courier at the top of the world rankings when the new standings were published on Monday, produced a power-packed performance to win his first-round tie in 65 minutes.
Banners of congratulations welcomed Sampras on to Centre Court and virtually every shot he played was followed by a battery of cameras. And after his first victory as the official world number one, young fans gathered to present him with flowers and bombarded him with requests for a prized autograph or photograph.
Sampras said he was prepared for all the attention, however, because of his newly-acquired star status.
''After winning in Tokyo last week and reaching number one I expected it to be like this,'' said Sampras.
''I thought I would get a lot of support and it came out to be true.
''On court I felt no different just because I'm the number one. There was no extra pressure because when I play I do not think about it.
''I feel I have been a target since winning the US Open in 1990 and it's something you have to get used to and take things one match at a time.
''With the game as it is there are many guys capable of causing upsets; there are no 'gimmes' out there and I think I have responded well to the pressure for the last two years.'' Sampras arrived in Hongkong on Sunday night and said he spent his day off on Monday by scaling another summit - Victoria Peak.
''I went on the tram to the top of the mountain for a good view of Hongkong - and it's a beautiful place, amazing. It's a lot like America with a lot of English-speaking people,'' he added.
His diet, however, would not be so adventurous.
''I guess I'm a little bit picky with what I eat. I'm not really into Thai food or Chinese food. I like to stick with chicken because I know where it's coming from.'' Sampras broke Simian - a tall, bespectacled left-handed Frenchman - twice in the first set to take it 6-2 in only 27 minutes.
The second set went with serve for the first six games before Sampras lifted his game to break his opponent in the crucial seventh game to lead 4-3. Sampras then held serve twice to take the match.
His most impressive shot was his elegant, flashing backhand, which demoralised Simian time and again, but he also produced some clever lobs and athletic volleys to highlight his all-round class.
Sampras was followed on to Centre Court by third-seeded American Michael Chang, the world number nine, who needed one hour 28 minutes to dispose of qualifier Jason Stoltenberg, ranked 125th in the world, 6-3, 6-4.
Said Chang: ''He played a totally different game in the second set than he did in the first by mixing it up and cutting down his errors.
''I was trying to play solid and wait for the break.'' Chang now plays the unseeded but very dangerous Australian Todd Woodbridge, who beat him in the Japan Open in Tokyo last week.
''It's always nice to play the next week the guy you lost to, although he will be a tough opponent,'' said Chang.
The ATP Tour visits Beijing from October 18-24 for another Salem Open - but the dates clash with the Marlboro Championships exhibition tournament in Hongkong.
Chang will be the major drawcard for both tournaments but said last night he had not made up his mind which to enter.
''I really do not know just yet; things are still undecided so I will leave it.'' When asked when he would make a decision, Chang replied: ''Not this week.''