1997 Wimbledon: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline
“Todd Woodbridge had a career singles run at Wimbledon in 1997, making it all the way to the semifinals. Although he is one of the all-time doubles greats, Todd had trouble translating his skill to singles. He had geat technique and finesse, and he was very crafty. But he didn’t make a lot of power and he didn’t move great (in doubles, he only had to worry about half the court). Todd’s weaknesses played right into my strengths, and I had little trouble with him. Once again, I found myself facing Cédric Pioline in the final.
I felt for Cédric because even though he had played a previous Grand Slam final against me at the US Open, this was different – no tournament feels as historic as Wimbledon. There was no pressure on him; I was the prohibitive favorite. His best chance lay in getting out there and just letting it rip – what did he have to lose? But that’s easier said than done.
Once again, as in our US Open final, Cédric seemed overwhelmed. I won the first two sets, giving up just six games. I was on top of my game and in touch with the Gift. It seemed like just minutes after the start of the match, yet there I was, serving at 5-4 in the third. I found myself thinking, Wow this is too easy. I don’t mean to be disrespectful toward Cédric. It was just that the match was on my racket, far sooner and with far less difficulty than I expected.
I had this flash as I got within two points of the match: Man, this is so big, what I’m doing – this is it. Wimbledon. It’s huge … And I was immediately overcome by this feeling of insecurity. I panicked, like someone having an anxiety attack. I thought, Is it really supposed to be so easy? Am I missing something here? Is this all going to turn out to be some kind of joke or hoax, on me? In a very real, visceral way, it was like a great dream, the kind in which you feel omnipotent, but a part of you knows that at any moment you might wake up and destroy the illusion.
But I didn’t wake. I coasted across the finish line in straight sets, giving up a total of ten games. It was fitting end to one of the least eventful or significant of my Wimbledon tournaments. I didn’t have any epic battles or showdowns with career rivals. Yet my performance at Wimbledon in 1997 may have been my best, in terms of having full control of my game and using it to maximum advantage for the longest sustained period. One stat said it all: I served 118 games, and held 116 times.”