DEJA VU PETE SAMPRAS LEFT THE FRENCH OPEN IN FAMILIAR FASHION--AS AN UPSET VICTIM THINKING OF A FRIEND IN TROUBLE

June 08, 1997

He grimaced. He shrugged his shoulders. He stood there frozen,
unable at times even to lift his racket, as ball after ball flew
past. Nobody in tennis comes undone more spectacularly than Pete
Sampras, and this was classic Sampras. On a beautiful Friday
afternoon in Paris, with conditions perfectly suited for his
game and his opponent wearing all the earmarks of a third-round
victim, Sampras, the world's No. 1 player, presented to the
world yet another woebegone portrait. He had come to the French
Open obsessed with winning the one Grand Slam event he hasn't
mastered, but now, battling the aftereffects of
diarrhea--flashes of dizziness, exhaustion, fever and
chills--Sampras was nobody's idea of a champion. His serves
leaped into the net like misguided fish, his forehands flew
long, and, in the second set, he tugged a racket out of the
courtside refrigerator and placed it against his burning
forehead. The crowd begged: Allez, Pete! But Sampras was going
down, and the enduring message he could take into the rest of
his career was a simple one. Nothing he wants seems to come easy.

Why think otherwise? Last year Sampras endured three
five-setters, beat two former French Open champions and bulled
into the semifinals before losing to Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who
went on to win the tournament. This year the event seemed
particularly ripe for him to pick. Boris Becker, Andre Agassi
and Michael Stich withdrew before the fortnight began, and
through the first five days the sun battered the red clay
courts, hammering them hard, making them better suited for
someone with Sampras's big-serve, hard-court game. He handled
his first two opponents, clay-court specialists Fabrice Santoro
and Francisco Clavet, with such ease that his confidence soared.

"Hitting the ball like I am, serving well, I'm going to be
pretty tough to beat," Sampras said after Clavet won just five
games against him. All the talk about Sampras's injured right
wrist and left thigh, his two first-round losses heading into
Paris, began to fade.

But once Sampras got leveled by a common case of tourista, and
Magnus Norman celebrated his 21st birthday by upending him 6-2,
6-4, 2-6, 6-4, Sampras wasn't alone in wondering whether his
tremendous talent hadn't come at a maddening price. He has both
endured and lost out to a slew of physical
breakdowns--including, most famously, his five-set, vomit-marred
win over dehydration and Alex Corretja in the quarterfinals of
last year's U.S. Open, and for two years he lived through the
terminal illness of his coach Tim Gullikson. "At times it just
seems like in my life things happen," Sampras said the morning
after losing to Norman. "Things just happen around me that test
me."

The testing isn't over. Just before flying to Europe last month,
Sampras learned that the architect of his game and his coach
from age nine to 18, Southern California pediatrician Pete
Fischer, had been charged with molesting a 14-year-old boy
during a series of medical examinations. When Sampras's brother,
Gus, relayed the news to him over the phone, "I was in a state
of shock," Pete said last week. "I felt sick."

On May 15, Fischer, 55, was arraigned in Los Angeles Superior
Court on three counts of child molestation and three of anal
penetration with a foreign object. (The counts carry penalties
ranging from one to eight years in prison.) The case involves a
boy whom Fischer was treating for a growth defect, according to
L.A. Deputy District Attorney Eloise Phillips, who says that
the child's mother grew suspicious when her son's behavior
changed after he began going to Fischer.

Fischer's attorney, Stephan DeSales, calls the charges unfounded
and says Fischer was simply doing his job as a pediatric
endocrinologist. "In the course of treating him with
testosterone, Dr. Fischer did a prostatic examination [in which
the physician inserts a finger into the patient's rectum to
check the prostate], and he did this three times," DeSales says.
The procedure was noted by Fischer in the medical record,
DeSales says. Before bringing charges, Phillips says, she
consulted the California Medical Board, which referred her to a
doctor who said he found the procedure performed by Fischer to
be improper. Phillips says Fischer is also being accused of
masturbating the boy during the examinations.

Fischer was arrested on Feb. 20 by Downey, Calif., police, who
did not charge him or release information about the case until
last month, while continuing their investigation. A hearing is
scheduled for June 19. Fischer is not allowed to practice
medicine until the state medical board holds a separate hearing.
"This has ruined his life," DeSales says.

Last Thursday, Fischer, who is free on his own recognizance,
said, "I served my country in Vietnam. I believe 100 percent in
the system. I'm innocent of any crime."

Asked if he had spoken to Sampras, who had beaten Clavet the day
before, Fischer said, "I can't talk to Pete during the French,
and I won't. Personally, I would appreciate, if this does come
out, that it not come out during the French. He knows. But this
could be the year he wins the French, and we want it."

Told of Fischer's comment, Sampras wasn't surprised. It was,
after all, Fischer who focused him on winning Grand Slam
events--and helped fuel his quest to win the French. The two
severed their relationship in 1989 in a bitter dispute over
compensation but renewed their complicated friendship four years
ago; Sampras respects Fischer's tennis judgment and values his
opinion over anyone else's in the game, but he is so unnerved by
Fischer's obsession with perfection that he rarely allows
Fischer to come to tournaments. But Sampras still has great
regard for Fischer, who works with a number of children in
Southern California, including up-and-comer Alexandra Stevenson,
a member of the U.S. Junior National Team. In his nine years
with Fischer, Sampras said, he never saw a hint of unseemly
behavior, nor did he hear of any. "Absolutely not," Sampras
said. "I support Pete. He's been like a second father to me
since I was eight. The hard thing for me is that his reputation
will never be the same."

Sampras doesn't believe Fischer's arrest weighed on him during
this clay-court season. His diarrhea had cleared by the morning
of the Norman match, but within four games Sampras felt "totally
disoriented. It was kind of a weird day." Kind of? By the end of
the first set, Sampras was sure he was going to have to pull out
of the match. Norman, ranked 65th, had heard of his opponent's
condition the night before from friends in Sweden who had heard
mention of Sampras's illness on a news report. When he saw
Sampras hobbling, Norman didn't let up. He won the first two
sets, and although Sampras found his serve in the third set, he
was running on fumes. Norman recovered in the fourth, moving
Sampras around the court and taking advantage of an astonishing
22 unforced errors. "I beat him," Norman said. "If he was sick,
that's his problem."

So, too, for another year, is the French Open. Sampras is 25,
and though he may have a lot of big years left, he's beginning
to think he may not be meant to win this tournament. "It will be
a continuing struggle for me to win here," he said. "I realize
that."

The morning after the loss, a car waited outside his hotel to
take Sampras to the airport. He wanted to get out of Paris
quickly. He planned to go to Southern California to see his
family and Fischer. "I'll call him and see him and see how he's
doing," Sampras said. "Whatever I can do to help." He will also
try--and fail--to figure out what it is about his life that
brings him, once again, face to face with a friend in deep
trouble. "This is bizarre," Sampras said. "I don't know what to
think anymore."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN French Cut Venus Williams lit up Paris with herdaring 'do before losing to Nathalie Tauziat 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 at the upset-filled French Open (page64). [T of C] COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN [Pete Sampras in game] COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Norman wasn't about to go easy on an ailing Sampras because, he said, "if he was sick, that's his problem." [Magnus Norman in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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