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Saturday, November 29, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tennis -- Davis Cup All But Lost For U.S. Team -- Sampras' Calf Injury Gives Sweden A Leg Up

Washington Post

GOTEBORG, Sweden - His left calf throbbing and his spirits shot, Pete Sampras rolled out of the Scandinavium in a wheelchair yesterday, and the United States' hopes for a 32nd Davis Cup title almost surely went with him.

Looking nearly as glum as first-match loser Michael Chang, Sampras retired 1 hour, 47 minutes into his match with Magnus Larsson, giving the Swede an abbreviated 3-6, 7-6 (7-1), 2-1 victory. Coupled with Jonas Bjorkman's 7-5, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Chang, Larsson's victory gave Sweden a 2-0 lead in the Davis Cup final.

And with Sampras - who has a pulled left calf muscle - unavailable to play for the remainder of the weekend, the doubles team of Bjorkman and Niklas Kulti is a heavy favorite to defeat Todd Martin and Jonathan Stark today and give Sweden the 1997 Davis Cup title. In 84 previous Davis Cups, only Australia has recovered from an 0-2 deficit to capture the championship, against the Americans in Philadelphia in 1939.

"Certainly we're in a position we're not used to being in," said U.S. captain Tom Gullikson, who probably will replace Sampras with Martin in tomorrow's first singles match. "Our backs are really against the wall."

In a statement he released before heading to Sahlgrenska Hospital to undergo an MRI exam, Sampras said he felt pain in his calf in the middle of the second set. He was treated by a trainer after the seventh game of that set and took anti-inflammatory drugs after losing the tiebreaker. Unable to push off on his serve or move well on returns, Sampras managed three more games before calling it quits.

The Americans' challenge is all the more daunting given that they must play without their No. 1 player and with Chang, their No. 2 player, in a serious state of despair.

"I've had disappointing times in my career, but I think at this point I'm pretty far down there," Chang said. "I think it's never an easy thing to go through. Each day becomes difficult to pick yourself back up and go on and work hard. . . . When you work hard and you're still coming up short, still falling, it can get tough."

Bjorkman improved his Davis Cup singles record to 7-2 and said, "Definitely, this is my best win ever in Davis Cup."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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