PARIS - Pete Sampras's 13th attempt to win the elusive French Open crown ended in the first round yesterday when Italian Andrea Gaudenzi secured a battling 3-6 6-4 6-2 7-6 win.
It was a disappointing finish to the day for the 12th-seeded American as he looked set for victory before two rain interruptions put paid to his hopes.
"It was frustrating to have so many opportunities and yet not being able to break," said Sampras following the match which spanned for almost six hours due to the interruptions but lasted for three hours five minutes.
"It's a pretty empty feeling right now because I put so much effort and energy into my French Open preparations and it's really, really frustrating not to even get into the second round."
Sampras, who has never progressed beyond the semi-finals at Roland Garros despite being holder of a record 13 grand slams, seemed to be in the driving seat after capturing the first set with his trademark serve and volley tactics.
With the conditions getting colder and damper, Sampras tried to up the pace but sudden showers thwarted his attempts to convert break points in both the seventh and ninth games of the second set.
A lengthy rain break at 4-4 allowed the 69th ranked Italian, who had failed to advance beyond the second round in any of his 16 previous tournaments this season, to regroup and snatch the initiative away from Sampras.
A hesitant Sampras was duly punished for sending in some wayward deliveries in the 10th game as Gaudenzi leveled the match with a scintillating backhand winner on set point.
Despite being cheered on by a loud partisan French crowd, a visibly frustrated Sampras - seeking his first title since winning Wimbledon 2000 - failed to convert any of his five break points in the third set.
Having saved Gaudenzi's first set point with an overhead smash, the Italian sealed his two-set to one advantage with a crosscourt winner that left the 30-year-old American stranded at the net.
A second rain interruption forced the players off when they were engaged in an intriguing tussle on Gaudenzi's serve at 3-3 in the fourth set.
While the American had looked dead and buried by the close of the third, his serves misfiring and volleys going wide, a rejuvenated Sampras hit the right gear when play restarted and immediately broke Gaudenzi for a 4-3 lead.
With every Sampras winner being greeted with loud roars from the fans, Gaudenzi's previously solid baseline game began to falter but he was handed a lifeline when Sampras smashed a seemingly easy shot into the net when he was serving for the set at 5-4.
Kicking the ball away in disgust, Sampras tried to calm his nerves and his frustration as the players headed into the tie break.
Inevitably the errors crept into Sampras's game and Gaudenzi raced away with the tie-break 7-3 to book a place in the second round against American qualifier Jack Brasington.
The defeat condemned Sampras to his fifth successive defeat before the third round here. "Serving for the set was a very, very big game to lose just added to my frustration," said Sampras.