1995 US Open: Pete Sampras defeats Andre Agassi
From Sampras‘ autobiography ” A champion’s mind”:
My third consecutive Wimbledon title was quickly overshadowed in 1995 by Andre’s amazing resurgence, which picked up steam during the hard-court season. I was just another of his many victims as he went on a twenty-match summer tear that stunned all of tennis. Andre beat me in the Canadian Open as he went on a four-tournament run to enter the US Open as the favorite. But that also put him under a lot of pressure. If he lost to me, all twenty-five of the matches he had won over the summer went right into the toilet, and the fact that he was number one went into the wastebasket. Andre, like me, played for the big moments and the big tournaments more than for the numbers and rankings.
So that created pressure, and I also felt that Andre knew I would be very tough at Flushing Meadows. I had the game, I had the motivation, I had the experience. I had everything needed to spoil his magical run. I was confident, despite Andre’s superb level of play. The situation made great fodder for the press. But for me the bottom line was that I enjoyed playing Andre. Good as he was and no matter what the score on a given day might be, he didn’t really move me far out of my comfort zone if I was on the top of my game.
We marched to the final to a drumbeat of inevitability and media hype. The weather on the day of the final was tricky, although you may not have known it if you were just watching, or even sitting in Louis Armstrong Stadium. It was a little breezy, and we started off feeling each other out, a little like two heavyweight fighters. I could sense that this was a huge occasion because the a-list celebrities had come out: John F Kennedy Jr as there, so was Arnold Schwarzenegger and a host of of others.
Andre and I jabbed at each other and built a feeling for the ball, game after game; both of us knew that as the set went on, one or the other would have an opportunity. At 5-4 set point to me, we had a nineteen-stroke rally, much of it forehand to forehand, that I remember as if it had just happened yesterday. It was one of the most important and significant points I ever played, and I won it with a sharply angled backhand winner.
Andre had maneuvered me into playing the kind of point that was his bread and butter, and I had not just escaped the trap to win the point; it won me the set. It was like a right hook that staggers a fighter. In tennis, a moment like that can cost you a lot more than the game. I think it probably cost Andre the next set, because I more o less cruised through it without being pushed, or feeling like I was being punished, physically. I won that second set 6-3.
With two sets in hand, my confidence soared. I had a commanding lead and just pulling even would cost Andre a lot. Still, I expected Andre to win his rounds as I would win mine. He played well to win the third set, but it took a lot out of him, and he still had a long way to go just to get on even footing. I had to be careful, though: if I went down a break in the fourth, it would be like an IV drip for Andre’s flagging spirits; he would instantly revive and get a massive surge of adrenaline and confidence. I had to dial it up, but still play “within myself.”
For me, dialing it up always started with improving the quality of my serve, either speed- or placementwise. One of the best things about winning your service points quickly is that you’re in an out of your service game in the blink of an eye, and you can then focus and take even more chances on breaking serve. Conversely, your opponent feels pressure; he’s so busy trying to hold serve that he barely has time to think of breaking you. Ts can be a big factor late in a set, and it always makes life tougher for a player whose own serve isn’t a huge weapon.
Andre and I played close through most of the fourth set, but I was serving aces and held the eleventh game with ease. I sensed that the pressure might be getting to Andre, and got the key break for 6-5, after which I served out the match.
The win opened the floodgates for me in a number of ways. It was my seventh major, and it launched me on a run that would earn me six more majors in the next four years. The match also had a devastating effect on Andre. It put me up 9-8 in our rivalry, but more important it impacted Andre so badly that he soon fell off the radar – he admitted much later that it took him two years to recover from that devastating loss. It was too bad, because the match also certified my rivalry with Andre; nobody could push me and force me to play my best tennis the way Andre could. And nobody could call our rivalry hype cooked up by Nike anymore – it was the real deal, even though it was put on hold.