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With Dedication, Sampras Aces Third U.S. Open

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 11, 1995

NEW YORK, SEPT. 10 -- Pete Sampras did not want to play anyone more than he wanted to play Andre Agassi, his top rival, in the U.S. Open men's singles final this afternoon. Agassi felt the same way.

It was, by all accounts, a dream matchup: The No. 1-ranked Agassi, with his voracious return game, against No. 2-ranked Sampras, with his spectacular serve. Sampras says Agassi brings out his best tennis, and Agassi is quick to return the compliment.

So when Agassi stood stock-still on his side of the court and watched Sampras's final serve scream past him, he could do little more than nod his head and wave his racket in silent respect. He knew Sampras would have to play excellent tennis to beat him. And he knew that Sampras had done exactly that.

Sampras had 24 aces in a 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 victory over Agassi, winning match point on a 120-mph ace. With the triumph, Sampras claimed his third career U.S. Open title, and seventh Grand Slam championship of his decorated career.

"It is always a little bit different when I can beat Andre," Sampras said. "We're one and two in the world, both American, and to beat him makes me feel a little better than if I had beaten somebody else."

Sampras had a subdued reaction to his triumph, raising both arms, but not dropping to the court the way Agassi did after winning the title last year. And after he shared a handshake, a pat on the back, and a few words at the net with his vanquished opponent, Sampras turned to the television cameras and told the world exactly what was on his mind.

"This one's for you, Timmy," Sampras said, referring to his coach, Tim Gullikson, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in January.

Overwhelmed by his emotions, Sampras had to wipe a few tears from the corner of his eyes as he waited for the trophy presentation. At one point, he buried his head in a white towel as his shoulders gently shook. Agassi, always extroverted, also seemed somewhat quieted by what had taken place.

"You know, you feel it -- that kind of intensity you get -- you feel it on the ins and outs of every point," said Agassi, the defending champion, who seemed to have difficulty putting feelings into words. "You feel the respect for his game and what he is capable of doing."

Sampras and Agassi were the focus of the men's draw from the start of this tournament, a focus Agassi said today he found difficult to ignore during the past two weeks. Much more was riding on today's match than the title: With two Grand Slam titles to Agassi's one, Sampras gained bragging rights to the 1995 season, although not a return to the No. 1 ranking Agassi took from him in April.

"Andre's been a lot more consistent this year and won more titles," Sampras said. "My year is a lot more up and down, but, hey, it's the computer {deciding the rankings}, and I can't read it."

Agassi has far too many rankings points to be unseated by Sampras, whose titles here and at Wimbledon cannot make up for all the points Agassi has won in other appearances this year.

Starting with a victory over Sampras at the Australian Open, Agassi has reached the finals of nine hard-court tournaments, and won five.

Still, Agassi knows that winning the big ones is what really matters. He announced Saturday night -- after he won his semifinal -- that the player who claimed today's title could consider himself the king of 1995. He did not back down from that statement today.

"Pete has won two Slams, so I will have to say that come December 31, he is going to feel better about the year than I did," said Agassi, who also went out of his way to point out that Sampras has one more victory in head-to-head meetings (nine to Agassi's eight) in their careers. "By the same token, I would play him for 100 bucks right now. That's just the way it is."

Agassi certainly wanted to replay the first set, which nearly drove him to distraction. Sedate -- almost dull -- at the start, both players held serve and the crowd barely whispered, let alone spoke.

The key to the match came in the 10th game, when Agassi was pushed to break point when a shot that hit the net cord did not fall his way. He recovered to take the game to deuce, but overfired an overhead shot to give Sampras the advantage.

The point that followed -- Sampras's second set-point opportunity -- was the most spectacular of this tournament, and one of the best in recent memory. Time after time, Agassi thought he had hit a winner, and time after time, Sampras responded. Finally, after 22 shots, Sampras hit a marvelous backhand that ended the suspense.

"That's one of the best points I've ever seen in my life," said Paul Annacone, who has served as Sampras's coach and adviser in Gullikson's absence. "You saw two superstars come off with so many shots. I kept thinking someone had won it."

Perhaps a bit deflated by that game -- and that point -- Agassi was broken on his first service game of the second set, and never broke back. Barely more than an hour into the match, he was down two sets and a break.

Agassi made his big stand in the third set, when he broke Sampras twice, the second time in the 10th game to claim the set. But the final set belonged to Sampras, as was indicated by his numerous aces, including four straight to take the sixth game.

Agassi seemed to know it, and when he stood stock-still and watched Sampras's final serve, there was little left to be said.

"Next summer, I think I'm going to lose a little bit," said Agassi, who had 26 straight victories heading into today's match. "I'm 26-1, and I'd give up all 26 just to have this one back."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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