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Sampras faces the future in Hewitt

The veteran meets the 19-year-old Australian, who is playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal.

Pete Sampras is man enough to admit that his U.S. Open semifinal opponent today, Australian teen Lleyton Hewitt, is the future of men's tennis.

Hewitt is only 19 and he has talent oozing out of his sneakers.

"He's going to be the future for as along as he wants to," Sampras said, "because he's got the mind and that heart to be in the top."

Sampras, though, is quick to point out that the future has not arrived. Hewitt might one day win a title here, but Sampras is determined to not let it happen this year.

It is, in Sampras' mind, still his time.

He just turned 29, but he believes there's plenty of gas left in his tank, more Grand Slam titles within his grasp.

He isn't winning them as regularly as he once did. He has only one a season since 1998, all at Wimbledon. He hasn't won the crown at Flushing Meadows since 1996.

But this is where it all started for him, that September afternoon in 1990 when he came out of nowhere to win the Open when he was the same age as Hewitt.

So Flushing Meadows is dear to Sampras and he would like nothing better than to win here again, if only for old times' sake.

"I've had some tough losses here, one against (Patrick) Rafter, one against (Petr) Korda," Sampras said. "Hopefully, this week that will change and I can break through and win here. It's not going to be easy because I'm playing a tough guy (today)."

Indeed, the ninth-seeded Hewitt is perhaps the most complete player among the ATP Tour's new generation. He's only 5 feet 11, but he's quick as a cat and can play on any surface.

He has stunned many of the world's top names, including Sampras at Queens Club this summer. But he has only begun to make his mark at Grand Slam tournaments. This will be his first Slam semifinal, but nerves don't figure to be a problem with him, even against arguably the greatest pro of all-time.

"Obviously he's a totally different player in Grand Slams, particularly at Wimbledon," said Hewitt, who is 1-3 lifetime against Sampras. "But beating him at Queens gives me a little bit more confidence. But Pete's a great player and he can lift his game at any moment.

"I'll probably have to go up another gear as well."

Sixth seed Marat Safin of Russia might have to do the same against unseeded Todd Martin in today's other semifinal, though Safin is ranked higher. Martin, at 30, has been in a zone lately, rallying from two-sets-to-none against Carlos Moya in the fourth round and fending off a hot Thomas Johansson in the quarterfinals.

He has won nine of his last 11 matches and seems to be gaining more confidence with each round.

The only question in his mind is the unknown that comes with facing an opponent for the first time.

Still, Martin likes his chances.

"He has a big serve so it's going to be a little bit like grass-court tennis," Martin said. "You understand there's going to be some love games on the other side of the net, but you also understand that if you hang in there, you might be able to create some opportunities for yourself."

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