Sampras comes of age, wins U.S. Open Californian, 19, becomes youngest male champion

September 10, 1990|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK -- Imagine, an American men's tennis player who doesn't surround himself with an entourage, wear a fluorescent outfit or turn a bad call into a three-part tragedy.

And get this: the kid's heroes are Aussies. Not Mad Max or Crocodile Dundee. Guys named Laver and Rosewall, gentleman champions who knew how to play, knew how to win and knew how to lose.

It sounds too good to be true. But Pete Sampras is the real thing, the throwback dressed in white who rushes the net and comes to play the big game: serve and volley.

And he's only 19.

Yesterday, Sampras routed Andre Agassi, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, becoming the youngest male singles champion in U.S. Open history. The first all-American final in 11 years at Louis Armstrong Stadium served as a coronation for the new crown prince of the American game. Sampras, the brown-haired, brown-eyed boy-next-door from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., came from the No. 12 seeded position, and completed his up-from-obscurity rise by blitzing the glitz kid from Las Vegas in 1 hour, 42 minutes.

"It's just unbelievable," Sampras said. "This is the ultimate in tennis. Whatever I do the rest of my career, I'll always be a U.S. Open champion."

What Sampras did to Agassi wasn't very pretty. It was a blowout. The only statistics worth noting are these: With his serve, Sampras produced 13 aces and 12 winners and lost only 17 points in 13 games.

Sampras hit his serves like Joe DiMaggio at the plate -- all elegance, sweep and style. At the net, the 6-foot, 160-pound player was a presence, an unpassable volleying machine, a John McEnroe with a forehand shiver.

Agassi, a 20-year-old baseliner, was a bystander at his own defeat.

"It's not like I lost it -- I got my ass kicked," said Agassi, who has lost in the finals of the two Grand Slam tournaments he played this year.

"If I had to bet, I would have said that I would win," Agassi said. "I felt like I would beat him. This was just an old-fashioned street mugging out there."

Agassi, dressed up in hot lime, white and black, wasn't alone. In the quarterfinals, Sampras took out Ivan Lendl in five sets. In the semis, Sampras stopped the comeback of McEnroe in four sets.

"But I certainly played the best tennis of the year," Sampras said after beating Agassi. "I really controlled the match and dictated the play. I really don't know if anyone could have beaten me."

One year ago, Sampras was ranked No. 89 in the world. Seven months ago, he won his first tournament. A week ago, he declared himself too young to win the Open.

But generational changes in sport often occur without advance notice. It was only five years ago that Sampras changed his playing style, shifting from a two-fisted backhand to a one-handed approach. Instantly, he was transformed from a counterpuncher into an attacker. The polish was applied this summer, when Sampras added placement to his 120-mph serves.

"Anything he touched turned to gold," Agassi said.

The win was worth $350,000, plus millions in future endorsements.

"I was 12 in the world this summer, and I think I handled the pressure pretty well," Sampras said. "But it's going to start changing. More guys will be after me. Obviously, there is going to be a lot of pressure on me. At age 19, I think I can handle that responsibility, and if I can't, then I'll have to look at things and see what I'll have to do. Right now, I'm going to let it all soak in and enjoy it."

Already, Sampras has his sights set on Wimbledon. His eyes glazed over when he talked about the history and prestige of Wimbledon. Ion Tiriac, who manages Boris Becker, said Sampras is the only American with the right stuff to cope with the grass, royalty and pressure.

"He has good legs," Tiriac said. "He has great serves. He has the extra 20 mph on his wrist. He has great backhand volleys and decent forehand volleys. I don't know how much life he has. I prefer the crazy players. It takes a crazy man to win Wimbledon."

Sampras is clearly sane. He is a star with a sense of history. When he was 14, a coach showed Sampras tapes of Laver creating tennis magic.

"A lot of guys forget how the Aussies played," Sampras said. "All of them were classy individuals. And I want to be in that category."

*Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova were stopped in their quest to win the doubles Grand Slam, losing to Martina Navratilova and Gigi Fernandez, 6-2, 6-4, in the women's final.

The Czech team won the Australian, French and Wimbledon championships and was attempting to become the first Grand Slam doubles champions since Navratilova and Pam Shriver, who accomplished the feat for the third time in 1987.

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