1985 Davis Cup final

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography, A champion’s mind:

After the [semifinals] tie, the US team room was awash with the usual assortment of friends, family, USTA types, ITF types, and garden-variety hangers-on. At one point, I glanced across the room and made contact with Tim [Gullikson]. His face by that time was starting to hollow out and his eyes – an intense blue to begin with – were practically burning. For a second, we looked at each other, and each of us knew what the other was thinking: this should be our moment. All these other people are extraneous. This is about the two of us, and nothing can take away what we’ve accomplished, or the trust we have. I’ve never forgotten that moment or that look. It’s with me to this day as my enduring memory of Tim.

So it was on to Moscow for the November final, and I knew how much Tim wanted to see me lead the squad to a triumph. It was a tough ask, because the Russians, predictably, held the tie on very slow red clay, indoors. For them, it was th right move, even though Jim Courier and Andre Agassi could be as tough on clay as anyone. There was only one hitch – Andre was still nursing his chest injury. We hoped until the eleventh hour that Andre would be good to go, meaning that my job would be a manageable one: making sure we won the doubles, while Andre and Jim could do the heavy lifting in singles. I had confidence that we would win the doubles – I liked playing Davis Cup doubles with Todd Martin and, as ambivalent as I was about clay, I played doubles on it happily, with confidence.

We arrived in Moscow on a Saturday, six days before the Friday start. Andre had sent word that even though he couldn’t play, he would attend the tie as a show of team spirit and solidarity. That sealed the deal. Tom declared that I was going to play singles unless, of course, I felt like I was the wrong man for the job, and made enough of a fuss about the decision. How’s that for an awkard spot? What was I going to do, say, “Nah, Tom I’m not up for it. Let Todd or Richey go out there?” I could see all the makings of Lyon revisited – a full-on disaster.
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1990 US Open: pete Sampras and Andre Agassi

From Pete Sampras autobiography, A champion’s mind

The guy on the other side of the net the late afternoon of September 9, 1990, was Andre Agassi – a kid, just like me. And he was easy to find over there in his wild, fluorescent, lime green outfit, and big hair.

I couldn’t know it at the time, but Andre and I would have a historic rivalry and both wind up in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In fact, up to that point in ou young lives, Andre an I had met on a court just four previous times. We were unfamiliar with each other’s games because Andre had played most of his tennis in Florida while I was a California guy.

The first time we played was on a hard court in a twelve-and-under junior tournament in Northridge, California. Neither of us can remember who won that match, but I still have a strong visual memory of Andre. He rolled up with his dad, Mike, in a huge green Cadillac worthy of a mobster. It was fitting, because the Agassis lived in Las Vegas and Mike worked as a pit boss in Caesar’s Palace. Way back then, Andre already had this junior rock star thing going. He was skinny as a rail, but so was I. He already had this junior rock star thing going. He was skinny as a rail, but so was I. He already had that big forehand and those quick, happy feet.

Andre and I were supposed to meet at another junior event. In juniors, you often have to play two matches on the same day, and both of us had won our morning match. But for some reason, Andre and Mike disappeared – just up and left the site, enabling me to advance by default. In our first meeting as pros, on the red clay of Rome in 1989, Andre had waxed me, losing just three games. But I had played him even-up in that Philadelphia match I mentioned earlier.
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Andre Agassi and Boris Becker, 1990 US Open

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

As always, the men’s semifinals sandwiched the women’s final, so Becker and Agassi had to be on court at 11 o’clock in the morning. Only at the US Open could a semifinal match start with the stadium half empty.

Those who came late missed a wonderful seventy-one-minute first set. Becker saved four set points and Agassi three. Becker finally won in a 12-10 tiebreak.
Sitting in the stands, neither Brett nor Tiriac felt overjoyed at the end of it. Relieved, yes. Perhaps, they thought, Boris would escape on his will and his guile, because, once again, he was not playing the kind of tennis either man wanted to see him play. Point after point, he stood behind the baseline exchanging ground strokes with Agassi. Only when he had too, it seemed, did he come in.

Brett and Becker had sat and talked at length after Becker’s quarterfinal victory over Aaron Krickstein. Becker had been down a set and a break in that match before he had snapped out of his lethargy to win the match in four sets. “He knows very well,” Brett said afterward, “that he can’t even think about playing that way on Saturday if he wants to win.”

And yet, here it was, Saturday, and Becker was back behind the baseline against a man he had to attack to beat. Maybe the conditions – cold and windy, a complete switch from earlier in the tournament – threw Becker off. Whatever it was, he could not keep up the clay-court style of game he was playing. Agassi’s shots began finding their mark regularly. Becker wasn’t even making him sweat to hold serve. At one point, he won six points in eight games that Agassi served? When Becker didn’t get his serve in, Agassi controlled the points.

Agassi broke Becker nine times in thirteen service games during the last three sets. No doubt, he had returned extremely well. But Becker doesn’t get broken nine times when he is coming in. It can happen only if he plays behind the baseline.

Agassi won in four sets. He ended it with a service winner and promptly knelt in a prayerful pose somewhat akin to The Thinker – remarkable behavior from someone who, a week earlier, on this same court, had spewed profanities and spit on an umpire. Becker said nothing, but he noticed.

Considering the fact a young American had just beaten the defending champion, the crowd was surprisingly quiet. The applause was a little more than polite, but not much. Becker tried too hard to be gracious in his press conference. He claimed that he had played better tennis against Agassi than he had in 1989, in the final against Lendl.

“Andre was just too good,” he said.

Later that night, Becker admitted he had gone too far in praising Agassi.

“I didn’t want to sound like a bad loser,” he said. “He did play well, but I probably went too far, saying what I did. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who just says, ‘I was bad’, as an excuse for losing.”

Andre Agassi, 1990 US Open

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

Two men took center stage during the first week of the Open. Andre Agassi was expected to win his matches and move on to the second week, and he did – but not without a fire storm of controversy. No one knew what to expect from John McEnroe – controversial or otherwise – and what he did produce was entirely unexpected.

But not quite as unexpected as the performance Agassi put on during his second-round match, against Petr Korda. Agassi had gone home after Indianapolis to rest (and get stronger) prior to the Open, and he showed up for his first-round match, against Grant Connell, in a new outfit that looked like something designed to glow in the dark. It was some sort of lime-green, black-and-white concoction, with a shirt that hung down long in the back but was cut short in the front. Agassi had insisted that it be designed this way so his stomach would be revealed for all to see every time he hit a forehand.

Basking in the attention given his new clothes, Agassi seemed to be well past the funk he had been in during August. But Korda was not the easiest of second-round matches. No one on the tour could figure him out. He was Czech, left-handed, and, according to everyone, nuts. He could be brilliant, as against Brad Gilbert in Davis Cup when he had wiped him out in three sets, or awful, depending on his mood. He had gotten as high as twenty-second on the computer but had slipped back to thirty-third after a mediocre summer.

The match was at night – the USTA making sure TV got its Agassi fix – and was taut and tense for two sets. Agassi won the first, but late in the second he exploded in a manner that brought back memories of McEnroe at his worst.
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Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, 1995 US Open

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.