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Memories: 1995

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Sampras, Seles Shine in 1995

The Associated Press
December 20, 1995

By the time his body finally gave out at the Davis Cup final in Moscow, cramped and fatigued and sore all over, Pete Sampras had put the last touches on an amazing year.

An American championship. A third straight Wimbledon. A third U.S. Open title. A third consecutive No. 1 ranking at year’s end.

He became the first player to earn $5 million in a year, the biggest money winner in tennis history with $21.7 million.

Beyond all those achievements, though, Sampras revealed a depth of character perhaps more important than any of his considerable skills on court.

His year began with the devastating diagnosis in Australia that his coach and good friend, Tim Gullikson, had inoperable brain tumors. Sampras played through his tears in an emotionally wrenching match against Jim Courier and reached the final before falling to a near-perfect Andre Agassi.

Throughout the year, Sampras shuttled to Gullikson’s home in Illinois between tournaments, watching him go through radiation treatment. But Sampras handled the strain maturely, winning Wimbledon again at 23 and dedicating the victory to Gullikson, who watched from home.

As Sampras steeled himself, so too did Steffi Graf show remarkable strength in a year she called the best of her career.

Graf didn’t complete a Grand Slam, as she did in 1988. But she won every major event she played — the French, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — plus the WTA Tour Championship. She won 47 of 49 matches and banked $2.5 million.

As dominant as she was, Graf suffered mightily all year with back and foot injuries and with a tax investigation in Germany that sent her father-manager, Peter, to jail.

“It’s an incredible end to an unbelievable year,” Graf said after taking the WTA title in five sets over fellow German Anke Huber. “I’ve definitely passed a few barriers that I didn’t think I could. ... I went to the French and U.S. Opens not very well prepared, not playing very many tournaments. Physically, because I haven’t been able to train, I haven’t been really ready.”

She was as ready as she had to be to claw back from near defeat in the U.S. Open against Monica Seles, who played brilliantly in only her second tournament since being stabbed 2 1/2 years earlier by a fan of Graf.

Seles, co-ranked No. 1 with Graf, surprised herself and everyone else by winning her first event, the Canadian Open, and came within one dubious call on a serve of beating Graf in straight sets in New York. Seles served a ball she thought was an ace on set point in their first-set tiebreaker, and skipped toward the sideline as if she’d won. But a linesman called it wide, and a rattled and tiring Seles wound up dropping the set and match.

A sore knee sustained from too much practice and too many matches on hard courts in her brief comeback caused Seles to pull out of the other tournaments she had planned to play after the Open. But she’s planning to resume her career in January at the Australian.

The dominance of Sampras and Graf throughout the year overshadowed superb years by other players, especially Agassi and Thomas Muster.

Agassi held the ATP Tour’s No. 1 spot for 30 weeks after gaining it for the first time in April. He was the tour’s most consistent player until his chest injury late in the year, winning a career-high seven titles in 11 finals and finishing No. 2 for the second year in a row.

After starting off the year with a victory in the Australian for his third Grand Slam title, Agassi reached the final of the rest of the 10 hardcourt tournaments he played.

The Agassi-Sampras shuffle in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots marked the first time in the history of the ATP rankings, which go back to 1973, that the top two positions were occupied by the same two players every week of the year.

On clay, no one could rival the indefatigable Muster, who notched a 40-match winning streak and moved up from No. 15 in the rankings in 1994 to No. 3 this year. Muster won a career-high 12 titles in 14 finals, highlighted by his first Grand Slam title at the French Open.

Some new players made an impact during the year, none more powerful than Australia’s Mark Philippoussis, who nearly toppled Sampras in the U.S. Open.

But the year was darkened by the passing of two great former champions, Fred Perry and Pancho Gonzalez.

As the year came to a close, one of the most graceful and gracious champions ever, Stefan Edberg, announced that 1996 would be his last year on the men’s tour. He set two goals for himself before he retires — to get back into the top 10, and to win one more Grand Slam title.

© 1995 The Associated Press

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