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Sampras Aces Third Straight Wimbledon Win

By J.A. Adande
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 10, 1995

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JULY 9 -- If Wimbledon fans didn't embrace Pete Sampras today, it seems they never will. The Wimbledon history books, however, have no choice.

Sampras drew only the most polite British applause from the Centre Court crowd for each of his 23 aces and well-executed volleys during his 6-7 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Boris Becker in the men's final today. The fans urged on Becker even though he looked hopelessly overwhelmed as the match progressed. And they saved their greatest cheers afterward for Becker, then called for him to take a rare "victory" lap for a runner-up.

Sampras's victory made him only the third man since World War I to win three consecutive Wimbledon championships. It's a feat great champions such as Bill Tilden, Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors never accomplished.

Becker -- whose own bid for a three-peat fell short in 1987 -- speculated on what it might take for Sampras to become a fan favorite.

"I think with many things, you just don't appreciate things at the moment," Becker said. "And when Pete is going to get a little older and other new players will come, then you would maybe appreciate Pete Sampras more. Many people have been talking about a role model with Andre Agassi. If there's one role model in tennis, it's Pete Sampras. He's behaving perfectly on the court, he's a real nice fellow off the court, and he's playing great tennis altogether. He doesn't really have a bad shot in his game. I think he's definitely extremely good for the game of tennis."

In the 10 years since he won the first of his three championship appearances, Becker has quickly transformed from boy wonder to afterthought to sentimental favorite. The No. 3 seed, he attracted little attention at this tournament until he beat Cedric Pioline, 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (8-6), 6-7 (12-10), 9-7, in a memorable quarterfinal matchup, then came back from being down a set and down two service breaks to knock off the popular Agassi, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 7-6 (7-1), in the semifinals. Suddenly the English, awash in nostalgia for Becker's triumph as a 17-year-old in 1985, had a new, old hero.

Yet if there was a heart-tugging story at this Wimbledon, it belonged to the No. 2 seed, Sampras. Sampras played on while his coach, Tim Gullikson, sat at home in suburban Chicago, still recovering while undergoing chemotherapy for the brain tumors that caused him to be rushed home from the Australian Open in January.

"He and Pete have such a good relationship," said U.S. Davis Cup Coach Tom Gullikson, Tim's twin brother. "They're very good friends. It goes way beyond tennis."

Tom Gullikson did his part, providing a left-handed practice partner for Sampras before his matches with left-handers Greg Rusedski and Goran Ivanisevic, and filling in for his brother by standing up throughout the match today and yelling out Tim's customary rallying cry, "Pistol!"

"It sounded just like Tim," Sampras said. "Tom is a great friend, and obviously we both have dealt with Tim's situation in a very public way. . . . Just to have him here, to have that support really felt good on the court."

Sampras had called Tim Gullikson for advice and mutual support throughout the tournament, and called him soon after his victory today.

"We were all pretty pumped up," Sampras said. "The last couple of months have been a little bit rough. I really dedicated this win to Tim, because he's the true champion today. The way he handled his treatment is just an inspiration."

Apparently it was enough inspiration for Sampras to overcome the serving difficulties he encountered earlier in the tournament. Sampras had his first serve buzzing in at up to 129 mph with pinpoint location. After one ace in the fourth set, Becker covered his eyes and waved his racket blindly.

"It wouldn't have made a difference whether I had my eyes open or not," Becker said. "He would have hit the line anyway."

Consider this tell-tale statistic: Becker never reached a break point against Sampras in the match. Becker did manage to hold serve in the first set, then won the tiebreaker. But the effects of his previous two matches began to catch up with him. The double faults grew, from two in the first set, three in the second to six in the third, eventually reaching 15 -- one fewer than his ace total.

"After the first set, I kind of lost power in my whole game," Becker said. "He sensed that and he took his opportunity then."

Sampras broke Becker in the third game of the second set to begin his run, and at one point Sampras even urged the crowd to show some enthusiasm and help him get fired up. They responded, but only briefly.

Afterward, if you didn't know that the champion gets the trophy and the runner-up gets a silver salver, it would be tough to tell the winner from the loser today. The Duchess of Kent spent more time talking to Becker than Sampras during the trophy presentation. Sampras threw his shirt, towel and other items into the crowd, without much response. And while the crowd gave a perfunctory cheer as Sampras carried the Challenge Cup to the four corners of Centre Court, it beckoned for Becker to do a tour of his own. He obliged by holding the plate over his head and trotting around.

"It was one of the nicer feelings I ever had," Becker said. "It made me feel like a part of Wimbledon, part of the whole tournament, and that was always very important to me. I think I showed them everything I had, and I think they were happy with the last two weeks."

For all of Sampras's accomplishments, that special feeling is one he has never had. "I went out with the attitude, Let my racket do the talking,' " Sampras said. "I hope people appreciate the tennis I play. I'm not going to throw tantrums or act like a jerk out there. That's the way I was brought up and that's the way I will continue to be."

Asked what indulgences he will allow himself now that he has reached his goal, he said he would treat himself to a greasy burger, French fries and a Coke. His plans for the $584,000 he gets for winning? "Put it in the bank."

That's what you get with Sampras: no-frills, high-caliber tennis, at a level that now invites historical comparison. He is the seventh man to win at least three Wimbledon titles in a row, joining Bjorn Borg (champion 1976-1980) and Fred Perry (1934-1936) as the only men to do it in the past 81 years. Becker paid him this compliment: "Unfortunately, he owns the Centre Court now. I used to own it a few years back, but it belongs to him now."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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