2002 US Open: last Grand Slam title for Pete Sampras

From Sampras‘ autobiography ” A champion’s mind”:

At 4PM on a calm and bright Sunday afternoon in early September, I looked across the net and saw the same person who had been there twelve years earlier, almost to the day, when I played my first Grand Slam final: Andre Agassi.

The Andre I saw in 2002 was someone different from the kid I had seen in 1990, and it went well beyond the fact that the multicolored mullet had become a shiny bald head, and that lime green costume was now a fairly plain, conservative shorts-and-shirt tennis kit.
I saw a seasoned, confident, multiple Grand Slam champion who was in full command of his game – a game that could hurt me. This was no stranger: this was my career rival. This was the yin to my yang.

I had no sentimental thoughts or reveries going into the final with Andre; I didn’t think at the time that it might be my last official match. There were no revenge or vindication motifs in my mind, no desire to gloat, no emotional moments spent contemplating my career or how I had arrived at another Grand Slam final.
It was all about the moment for me, it was all about the tennis we would play over the next two or three hours, and that was always how I liked it best.

The atmosphere was electric; the entire crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium seemed to expect something special. I always had a taste for big occasions, and I couldn’t ask for much more than this.
I rolled through the first two sets with some of the best tennis I had played in years, trying to cope with my pace and the pressure I put on his service games.

In the third set, Andre finally got his bearings and we settled into a slugging match.
At 5-6, Andre got my serve again. I fended off one set point, but he earned another one. I drove a forehand volley into the net and suddenly Andre was back in the hunt, down two sets to one and encouraged by my apparent fatigue.

We held serve to 3-4 in the fourth set, but then the script went awry and instead of holding and putting pressure on Andre’s next service game, I found myself down two break points. If Andre converted either break point to go up 5-3, we definitely would go up for a fifth set. And Andre was looking stronger as the match went on. I managed to fight off the break points to even it, 4-all.

Andre probably felt deflated momentarily; the situation was like our last Wimbledon final all over again. And I knew, at an instinctive level that this was my moment. I had spent an entire career honing the ability to recognize and exploit moments like these, when for an instant my opponent’s attention or resolve flickered. I was ready. Suddenly, I was in touch with my long-lost friend, the Gift. And it felt great. I broke Andre.

I dropped the racket and slowly raised my arms. It was over, over and done, over and done for good.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last US Open title as well as my last Grand Slam appearance. It was my last moment in a special sun that was fading as fast as the one that descended into the haze of a late-summer afternoon in New York.
I had been given a rare opportunity to go out on my own terms. I took it.

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