1992 US Open: Edberg takes Sampras, US Open, No.1 ranking
By Alison Muscatine, Washington Post, September 14, 1992
It was a long time coming, but Stefan Edberg repeats U.S. Open title. In a match of second, third seeds and last two champions, Stefan Edberg punches out a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 victory over Pete Sampras.
Stefan Edberg mustered just enough energy to win the U.S. Open today. The battle-weary defending champion outlasted an exhausted Pete Sampras to win the final in Louis Armstrong Stadium, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 Edberg’s victory capped one of the most arduous fortnights in recent memory. Coming into the match, the 26-year-old Swede had played more sets than any finalist since 1951, including three straight five-setters. But today his perseverance was rewarded as he claimed his first Grand Slam title of the year and regained the No.1 ranking he relinquished to Jim Courier five months ago. When Sampras thumped a backhand service return into the net to end the 2-hour 52-minute match, Edberg leaped over the net, shook Sampras’s hand, and ran to the friends’ box to give his wife, Annette, a long embrace.
“I really earned it this year, I think,” the mild-mannered Edberg said as he ogled his sixth Grand Slam trophy. “I really worked hard.”
Instead of a riveting dogfight, the final was more like a battle of the walking wounded. The third-seeded Sampras was plagued by acute stomach cramps at the end of his semifinal victory Saturday night over top-seeded Courier, and afterward was given fluids intravenously to combat dehydration. Overnight and early this morning he suffered from diarrhea and intestinal cramps, but took some medicine to settle his stomach and insisted that he felt fine when the match began at 4 p.m.
By the fourth set, however, the 21-year-old American visibly faded. His body slumped, his shins were sore and his feet seemed glued to the court. For both players, it was almost a relief when the match ended.
“I just ran out of gas,” Sampras said. “I was just very tired, very exhausted.”
Seldom had two finalists arrived on court having been so physically and mentally strained. The second-seeded Edberg had survived a record-setting 5-hour 26-minute semifinal against Michael Chang on Saturday and had played 24 sets in his first six matches. He hadn’t had a day off since Wednesday.
Sampras, meanwhile, had played two five-set matches back-to-back earlier in the week and obviously was fatigued by the time he encountered Courier in the semifinals.
Despite their respective conditions, both appeared remarkably fresh when the match began on a cool, dry afternoon. Edberg had warmed up for 90 minutes to overcome lingering stiffness and said he felt mentally stronger than at any point during the tournament. And Sampras, at least at the outset, was strong enough to rifle some big serves and claim the first set.
It was a rare match-up of serve-and-volleyers and of two of the most elegant players. They had played four times, with Sampras easily winning the last two.
Inevitably, today’s match was a duel for control of the net. Edberg routinely chipped and charged on Sampras’ second serve or approached off the first short ball. Sampras followed his big serve in and hoped to take advantage of Edberg’s weaker ground strokes. But that only worked well at the beginning. In the second set Sampras’s serve began to falter — he missed 56 percent of his first serves — and Edberg stepped up the pressure with skidding returns to the corners that he followed with volleys.
“I think my serve really let me down today,” Sampras said. “Maybe it was the occasion. I was a little more tight than I would normally be. I think that affected my serve.”
Edberg‘s plan was to try to stay with Sampras as long as his body would hold up. Fortuitously, he found his groove on serve and held easily in the second set. He also was determined to take advantage of any mental lapse on the part of his opponent. Although Sampras staved off three break points at 2-3, he gave Edberg another chance serving at 4-5. A double fault at 40-30 brought the score to deuce. A backhand long gave Edberg break point. And a trademark backhand volley down the line by Edberg ended the set.
The tenor of the match shifted markedly at the end of the third set. Sampras broke Edberg at 4-4 and served for the set at 5-4. But, again troubled on his serve, Sampras double-faulted on break point to even the score at 5. He was equally lax when they went into a tiebreaker. He double-faulted at 4-5 in the tiebreaker to set up two set points. Then he launched a backhand passing shot wide, resulting in a 2-sets-to-1 lead for Edberg.
“Once I got the third set he lost momentum,” Edberg said. “I put a lot of pressure on him.”
While Edberg became increasingly authoritative on his volleys and more confident overall, Sampras’s energy and conviction seemed to wane. He lost the first game of the fourth set with another double fault on break point. Serving at 0-2, he watched flat-footed as Edberg rifled a forehand passing shot cross-court and then a forehand service return down the line to get another break.
“I could see him drop a little bit,” Edberg said. “I noticed that he got a lot slower and didn’t move that well.”
Sampras tried to remain confident but his body was too sore to allow it. “It was more mental than anything,” he said. “I was just telling myself that my body couldn’t do it and as a result it didn’t.”
Edberg, by contrast, served better and better, a welcome relief after a disastrous day on Saturday when he fired 18 double faults. He hit only five double faults in this match.
Most important, Edberg’s serving prowess enabled him to take full advantage of his volleys. By the fourth set he was unerring, often winning points on the first shot, and taking total control of the net. In all, Edberg approached 133 times, compared with 65 for Sampras.
“The longer the match went on the better I felt physically,” Edberg said. “I was a bit surprised, actually.”
For Sampras, the loss was a painful finale to his best Grand Slam year ever. He had advanced to the quarterfinals on clay in Paris, to the semifinals on grass at Wimbledon, and had hoped to build toward a title here. His prospects looked good. He had won 10 matches in a row and claimed back-to-back titles in warm-up tournaments in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
He also had a new appreciation of what another Open title would mean. After becoming the youngest champion here in 1990, at 19, he struggled with his newfound fame for most of the next year. But in the last eight months his improving tennis had been accompanied by a new maturity and a new outlook.
“I said coming into this tournament that if I could win, it would mean more to me than in 1990,” he said. “In 1990 it all happened so fast, probably too fast. I didn’t realize the importance and the history of the tournament. Coming in today I definitely knew of the importance. It was a huge match.”
But a summer of tennis that stretched from Wimbledon to the Olympics to the U.S. hard-court season clearly had taken a toll on his body. Despite his hard work and his dreams, Sampras had little left to give by match time today.
“I came close but it wasn’t enough,” he said. “I had my chances. I couldn’t finish it off. It was just a pretty tough day at the office.”