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Rafter, Rios, Sampras To Meet In Paris


On Wednesday, the three top players in the world -- defending champion Pete Sampras of the United States, Marcelo Rios of Chile and Patrick Rafter of Australia -- all see second-round action at the Paris Open as they battle for the year-end No. 1 ranking.

Sampras, bidding to finish

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the season ranked No. 1 for a record sixth consecutive year, will face Sweden's Thomas Johansson; Rios will meet Australian Todd Woodbridge; and Rafter will take on Nicolas Escude.

With three weeks left in the season, Sampras leads Rios by 288 points in the rankings but trails the Chilean by 231 based on points earned only in 1998. There are at least 370 points at stake this week and a first prize of $393,000.

Sampras, who won here in 1995, needs to reach at least the semifinals with enough bonus points to clinch the top spot for another week. If he fails, Rios or Rafter can pass him.

Should Sampras lose in the early rounds, Rios can reclaim the No. 1 ranking for a third time this year by reaching the final. Rafter has to win the title to keep his No. 1 hopes alive.

The 27-year-old Sampras is coming

Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras is hanging on to the to ranking. (AP)
off a tough three-set loss to eventual champion Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in the semifinals of last week's Super 9 Eurocard Open in Stuttgart, Germany. He is 19-6 all-time at the Paris Open and owns 22 indoor titles. However, no player has successfully defended his title here.

For the last two weeks, Rios has seen opportunities to pick up points scuttled by injuries. Last week, Rios pulled a muscle playing soccer with a tennis ball prior to his quarterfinal match in Stuttgart. A hamstring injury forced him to retire from a semifinal match in Lyon, France the previous week.

Since winning his second straight U.S. Open in September, Rafter has failed to win consecutive ATP Tour matches. He lost to Rusedski in the third round at Stuttgart.

Also Wednesday, French Open champion Carlos Moya of Spain, the fourth seed, will face Australia's Jason Stoltenberg; seventh seed Karol Kucera, bidding to qualify for Hannover, will meet Fabrice Santoro; and Stuttgart finalist Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, a finalist in 1996, will face Magnus Norman.

In addition, 10th seed Petr Korda of the Czech Republic, who has lost seven of his last eight matches, will take on U.S. Open finalist Mark Philippoussis of Australia; Krajicek, the 11th seed, will play 1994 finalist Marc Rosset of Switzerland; 1997 runner-up Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden will meet countryman Magnus Gustafsson; No. 15 Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands will take on Spadea; and No. 16 Albert Costa, winless in 14 career indoor matches, will look to snap that skid against Jerome Golmard.

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