Flawless Sampras shuts down Agassi

He wins 6th Wimbledon, record-tying 12th Slam

July 05, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- It was the way the century had to end at Wimbledon, with Pete Sampras digging, diving and even bleeding for a title.

Sampras gave Centre Court a little bit of everything yesterday. He played his biggest rival, Andre Agassi, in a men's final that was about history, about settling accounts on who was the best player of a generation, if not all time.

If Sampras isn't the best ever now, then who is?

He beat Agassi, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, becoming the only man this century to win six Wimbledon singles titles and tying Australian Roy Emerson as the all-time Grand Slam singles leader with 12 championships.

And he came about as close to tennis perfection as anyone has at Centre Court.

He stuck with the game's dominant baseline player, matching him stroke for stroke in long rallies before smacking winners. And he displayed his vintage serve-and-volley style, unloading 17 aces, including a championship-winning strike even as blood dripped off his right elbow.

"Well, that's probably the best I've played in many years," Sampras said. "I mean, plain and simple, I was hitting the ball clean from the backcourt and serving big at the right time. It's not easy to play well in a final like this. There is a lot at stake, and playing Andre, that's different from playing anyone else on a big occasion like the Fourth of July."

In a match ballyhooed like a heavyweight title fight, Sampras won by a knockout.

Agassi brought into the final his new confidence, French Open title and assurance that he would be ranked as the world's No. 1 player.

But Sampras brought his aura as a grass-court specialist.

"Andre brings out the best in me," Sampras said. "He elevates my game to a level that is phenomenal. If I'm not at my best, it's a long day against him."

Sampras wasn't at his best coming into Wimbledon. He lost his No. 1 ranking and his near-unbeatable reputation. But he took a been-there, done-that attitude, saying the majors are what counts, not the rankings.

In early matches, he struggled. Had Mark Philippousis not injured a knee and retired while up a set in the quarterfinals, Sampras might have been knocked out of Wimbledon.

But he wasn't. And he owns the joint, with a 46-1 record in winning the title six times in seven years.

Sampras seized the match against Agassi with daring and style. He brushed aside an 0-40 deficit with five big serves to hold at 4-3 in the opening set. Then, he crunched a forehand to break Agassi and go up 5-3.

And then, after winning the opening set with an ace and service winner, he broke Agassi again with a point that might have been the tournament's most important. There was Sampras, nearly down on one knee, reaching for a backhand and sending the ball screaming back to Agassi, who punched a volley into the net.

"You've got to kind of weather his storm, and when you weather his storm, that's when he's vulnerable and that's when I had my opportunities," Agassi said. "But his storm was too strong."

In the last set, Sampras was sliding and diving and finally bleeding for the title after he opened a gash on his elbow.

Serving for the match, he said, "There was nothing going on in my mind."

"It's all instinct, all nerves, and you just don't want to choke," he said. "I went for it and went up the middle, and the next thing I knew I was holding the cup."

And then he was being asked about history, about winning 12 Grand Slams.

"It's a little overwhelming to have won, to be honest," he said. "It's going to take time to sink in."

Agassi said Sampras likely can continue to dominate Wimbledon as long as he remains focused, which may prove difficult after his recent move to Los Angeles.

"I'm going to say for the next four years, as many times as he wants," Agassi said. "I've got a hunch L.A. will break him down before his body does -- meaning, if he starts getting comfortable on the lifestyle and changing his priorities."

But Agassi sounds eager to test Sampras again. It has been three years since they have been at their peaks together, and this is a rivalry that can make tennis sizzle.

"I want another shot at him," Agassi said. "I want another shot at him in the finals of the U.S. Open. So it's interesting how he's going to respond there. He hasn't played all that great all year, and then he comes back to Wimbledon and wins it."

This is the tournament Sampras owns. He loves the place and doesn't want to change a thing.

He plans to come back, again and again, ruling grass and making history on Centre Court.

Grand Sampras

With his sixth Wimbledon singles title yesterday, Pete Sampras trails only Willie Renshaw, who won seven, on the all-time list. He also tied Roy Emerson for most victories in Grand Slam events (Australian, French and U.S. opens and Wimbledon). A look at the players with eight or more:

Player A F W U T

Pete Sampras 2 0 6 4 12

Roy Emerson 6 2 2 2 12

Bjorn Borg 0 6 5 0 11

Rod Laver 3 2 4 2 11

Bill Tilden 0 0 3 7 10

Fred Perry 1 1 3 3 8

Jimmy Connors 1 0 2 5 8

Ken Rosewall 4 2 0 2 8

Ivan Lendl 2 3 0 3 8

Pub Date: 7/05/99

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