Pete Sampras is in a tailspin.
The player who was virtually unstoppable for much of 1994 ended a miserable clay-court season Wednesday by losing in the first round of the French Open, his earliest Grand Slam exit in five years.
Sampras, the No. 2 seed, was ousted by Austrian clay-court specialist Gilbert Schaller, 7-6 (7-3), 4-6, 6-7 (7-4), 6-2, 6-4 - the fourth time this spring he has failed to get past his opening match.
Once again, Sampras was denied of achieving his No. 1 goal: winning the French to complete a career sweep of all four Grand Slam titles.
“This loss is probably going to sit with me for quite awhile,” said Sampras, who had reached the quarterfinals in Paris the past three years. “One of my major goals was to play well and win here.”
Top-seeded Andre Agassi, also seeking to complete a career Grand Slam with his first French title, powered into the third round with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 win over Todd Woodbridge. Agassi won 14 of the last 15 games to end the match in just 92 minutes, just before darkness fell.
“It’s nice to get it over with after waiting around for 6 hours,” Agassi said. “I was prepared to finish tomorrow.”
Sampras got no favors when he drew Schaller. The Austrian, ranked No. 24, had won only one match in seven previous Grand Slams. But he had established himself this year by winning a clay-court event in Casablanca and reaching at least the quarterfinals of five other tournaments. “I felt like I had a chance,” Schaller said. “I knew that he is not very confident at the moment.”
The match had been suspended by darkness Tuesday with Sampras leading 3-1 in the third set. When play resumed, Sampras double-faulted twice and was broken, a sign that he had lost his momentum.
While Sampras held on to win the set in a tiebreaker, Schaller took the fourth set handily and went up 4-1 in the fifth.
One other men’s seed was eliminated Wednesday. Richard Krajicek, No. 15, was beaten by Andrew Ilie, a qualifier from Australia, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Fifth-seeded Thomas Muster, one of the favorites, powered to his 30th straight victory on clay with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 win over Cedric Pioline.
Eighth-seeded Wayne Ferreira survived a 4-hour, 23-minute battle with three-time former champion Mats Wilander, prevailing 6-7 (7-5), 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 6-7 (7-4), 8-6.
Jim Courier, the No. 13 seed who was champion here in 1991 and 1992, breezed past Kenneth Carlsen 6-3, 6-4, 6-0, and No. 9 Yevgeny Kafelnikov beat Magnus Gustafsson, 6-3, 6-7 (7-2), 6-1, 7-5.
On the women’s side, unseeded Nathalie Tauziat posted a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 upset over No. 6 Magdalena Maleeva. Steffi Graf won her 20th straight match, beating German compatriot Petra Begerow 6-4, 6-3. Also advancing were No. 4 Conchita Martinez, No. 5 Jana Novotna, No. 7 Lindsay Davenport, No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini and No. 9 Kimiko Date.