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SAMPRAS DRAWS TOUGH PATH FOR RECORD-TYING RUN AT OPEN

Pete Sampras will be tested as he chases history at the U.S. Open.

Sampras was handed a difficult draw Wednesday for the season's final Grand Slam tournament, with a potential quarterfinal meeting with Andre Agassi.

And if he gets by the eighth-seeded former champion, Sampras then could face defending titlist Patrick Rafter in the semifinals, a major obstacle in his quest for a fifth title at Flushing Meadow and record-tying 12th Grand Slam tournament singles crown.

Sampras, who won his fifth Wimbledon singles title in July, needs one more crown to match the dozen won by Roy Emerson.

Defending women's champion Martina Hingis drew a potentially tough route to the finals, too. The women's top seed faces a qualifier in the opening round. Then the fun begins.

Hingis' second-round foe would be either 1997 French Open champion Iva Majoli of Croatia or Germany's Anke Huber. Majoli, ranked 20th in the world, and Huber, 21st, will battle in what should be the toughest first-round matchup.

In the fourth round, if the seedings hold, Hingis would take on 16th-seeded Ai Sugiyama of Japan, possibly followed by No. 6 Monica Seles, who has beaten Hingis in both of their meetings this year.

Hingis and Venus Williams, who played for the women's title last year, were placed in opposite halves of the draw, meaning they can only meet in the final.

With Sampras, Agassi and Rafter in the top half of the men's draw are hard-serving Goran Ivanisevic, who is seeded 14th; Britain's Greg Rusedski, last year's runner-up who holds the record for the fastest serve; No. 9 Karol Kucera of Slovakia; No. 12 Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden; and No. 15 Alberto Berasategui of Spain.

Steffi Graf, winner of the last two opens in which she has played, meets Corina Morariu of Boca Raton, Fla., in the first round. Graf missed last year's tournament after knee surgery but was seeded eighth this time despite being ranked 38th.

Another interesting first-round women's match sends Wimbledon champion and No. 3 seed Jana Novotna against Jennifer Capriati, a semifinalist at the National Tennis Center in 1991 before burnout and personal problems interrupted her career.

Bugs don't slow Halard-Decugis

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- On a muggy and buggy night, Julie Halard-Decugis upset third-seeded Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario at the Pilot Pen International.

Halard-Decugis, who missed most of 1997 due to knee, shoulder and wrist injuries, beat Sanchez-Vicario, 7-6 (8-6), 6-2, Wednesday in a match that was delayed more than two hours by rain and nearly called after gnats swarmed the court.

Sanchez-Vicario led 2-1 in the first set before the rain delay. When play resumed, she went up 5-2 before Halard-Decugis rallied.

The Frenchwoman won the next four games to go up 6-5, then Sanchez-Vicario held serve to force the tiebreaker.

"I was making some mistakes in the beginning," said Halard-Decugis. "I just tried to focus more."

By the middle of the second set, both players had to contend with a cloud of gnats.

"There was so many going to the eyes and mouth and everywhere, and it was difficult to play," Halard-Decugis said.

The night match between second-seeded Jana Novotna and Chanda Rubin was halted for several minutes because of the gnats, but played resumed and Novotna ousted Rubin 6-1, 7-5.

Earlier in the day, South African Amanda Coetzer beat Anna Kournikova 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 and Anka Huber of Germany beat No. 6 seed Patty Schnyder, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).

Coetzer, the No. 7 seed, trailed 4-1 in the deciding set before she began to frustrate the Russian with deep groundstrokes.

"I just had faith that I could hang in there," Coetzer said.

Prinosil outs Moya

COMMACK -- David Prinosil needed a little luck to make it into the Hamlet Cup. It was skill, however, that got the German into the quarterfinals.

Prinosil, who got into the tournament after Yevgeny Kafelnikov withdrew because of an injury, beat defending champion Carlos Moya, 6-2, 6-2t.

Laver improved

LOS ANGELES -- Rod Laver, who suffered a stroke a month ago, has progressed sufficiently for doctors to allow him to go home. Laver, 60, is scheduled to go home to nearby Newport Beach today.

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