IN A CHART IN MONDAY'S EDITIONS, THE NATIONALITIES OF FRANK SEDGMAN AND FRANK CRAWFORD WERE INCORRECTLY LISTED. THEY ARE AMONG THE AUSTRALIANS WHO HAVE WON WINBLEDON. (PUBLISHED 07/07/99) IN A CHART IN MONDAY'S EDITIONS, THE NATIONALITIES OF FRANK SEDGMAN AND FRANK CRAWFORD WERE INCORRECTLY LISTED. THEY ARE AMONG THE AUSTRALIANS WHO HAVE WON WINBLEDON. (PUBLISHED 07/07/99)
It was Pete Sampras's blood that stained Centre Court at Wimbledon today, the result of a diving volley that scraped a large patch of skin off his right arm. But in the end it was Andre Agassi who was the casualty of a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 victory by Sampras that was so precise, so overwhelming that all Agassi could do was slump his shoulders and admit his opponent "walked on water today."
Sampras fired serves like rockets. He stretched for ungettable backhands, pounded unreturnable forehands. He approached the net like an old friend.
"I couldn't have played any better," Sampras said. "In the beginning, in the middle of the second set, I was on fire. In all aspects of my game, from my serving to my groundstrokes, I was playing in a zone. It was as well as I could play, plain and simple."
The win earned Sampras, 27, a modern-era record sixth Wimbledon championship in seven years, a $728,000 prize check and his 12th Grand Slam title overall, tying Roy Emerson's men's record. It also reignited an all-American rivalry on the Fourth of July as Sampras tossed back a gauntlet Agassi had thrown down less than a month ago by winning the French Open.
The pair, who have been battling each other across the net since childhood, head back to the U.S. hard courts to continue their argument over who is the better player. Agassi will be armed with the No. 1 ranking he got from Sampras at this tournament; Sampras will be armed with today's victory, which would have been anticlimactic if it hadn't been so extraordinary.
"I'm still spinning a bit," Sampras said about an hour after walking off the court. "It's a little overwhelming to have won the way I won, to be honest. I don't know how I do it, I really don't. It's just going to take time to sink in."
If anything, Sampras had entered the match as a slight underdog, despite being the top seed and defending champion here. Agassi was the one on the hot streak, riding his come-from-behind win at Roland Garros and rolling through this tournament. In the semifinals, he had defeated No. 2 seed Patrick Rafter in three surgical sets, and his always sharp return game looked particularly pointed.
Sampras had won just one tournament this year, a Wimbledon warmup, and once he reached the All England club he had a tough final week. He was losing to Australian Mark Philippoussis in the quarterfinals when Philippoussis was forced to retire with a knee injury, and he dropped the opening set of his semifinal match to Britain's Tim Henman before finally prevailing. But Sampras's old friend and Davis Cup coach, Tom Gullikson, said that Sampras has "a lot of different gears."
There is a higher gear he can shift to when playing in a Grand Slam final, Gullikson said. And then there is an even higher gear available for playing a Grand Slam final against Agassi.
"There was a lot at stake, and playing Andre, that's different from playing anyone else on a big occasion like the Fourth of July," Sampras said. "Once I step onto Centre Court, there is something in the atmosphere that brings out the best in me. I was saying before that this is going to be fun, that I'm going to enjoy it this time. Who knows how many finals I'll play here and play against Andre?"
The normally placid Sampras certainly looked joyful after the win, literally jumping out of his chair a few times as he waited for the trophy ceremony to begin. After the presentations and customary congratulations from the Duke and Duchess of Kent, tournament organizers asked both players to take a slow lap around the stadium, so fans could applaud and take photographs.
They went in opposite directions, and when they met again, Agassi playfully pretended to bash Sampras over the head with his small, silver runner's-up plate. The crowd laughed and the moment passed, but later Agassi admitted he had only been mostly joking. While he recognized the extraordinary level of Sampras's play, he couldn't forgive himself for not pouncing the few times Sampras let down his guard.
The biggest opportunity came in the first set, when Sampras was serving at 3-3. Agassi piled up three break points, but he couldn't convert any and Sampras stormed back to win the game. Sampras then broke Agassi in the next game, and the tone of the match was set.
"It was 3-3, 0-40, and then six minutes later I'm down 6-3 and 1-0 on a break," Agassi said. "That's how Pete plays. You've kind of got to weather his storm, and I had my opportunities, but his storm was too strong today. I couldn't do it."
Sampras broke Agassi for the final time in the next-to-last game of the third set, allowing him to serve for the match. He cut his arm again on another volley attempt -- this one was not as successful -- but he ended the day with two aces, the first at 127 mph, the next at 110 mph on a second serve.
"I knew it was good when it passed my racket," Sampras said of his final strike. "It's hard to explain the feeling I had serving for the match. All of the sudden, the match is on your racket, and you start breathing heavier.
"It was a great shot. I surprised myself. I went up the middle, and the next thing I knew I was holding the cup."
ALL-AMERICAN SINGLES CHAMPIONS
1999: Pete Sampras, Lindsay Davenport
1984: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova
1983: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova
1982: Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova
1981: John McEnroe, Chris Evert Lloyd
1975: Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King
1974: Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert
1972: Stan Smith, Billie Jean King
1955: Tony Trabert, Louise Brough
1953: Vic Seixas, Maureen Connolly
1952: Frank Sedgman, Maureen Connolly
1951: Dick Savitt, Doris Hart
1947: Jack Kramer, Margaret Osborne
1939: Bobby Riggs, Alice Marble
1938: Don Budge, Helen Wills Moody
1933: Jack Crawford, Helen Wills Moody
1932: Ellsworth Vines, Helen Wills Moody
1930: Bill Tilden, Helen Wills Moody
CAPTION: Pete Sampras cheers record-tying 12th Grand Slam title after three-set win over Andre Agassi.
CAPTION: Andre Agassi looks up after Pete Sampras's shot sent him tumbling to the ground at the All England club. Agassi says his opponent "walked on water."
CAPTION: Pete Sampras smashes an overhead return in winning his 12th Grand Slam title. "I couldn't have played any better," he says of his Wimbledon effort.