The Independent Archive: `Cool as a cucumber', Sampras wins US Open

10 September 1990 Pete Sampras and Gabriela Sabatini relieved West Germany of both US Open singles titles yesterday. John Roberts reports from Flushing Meadow
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PETE SAMPRAS became the youngest men's singles champion at the US Open here yesterday, aged 19 years and 28 days, and in the process brought the glimmer of a smile to the face of the establishment by whipping Andre Agassi, the multi-coloured drop-shot, who by the finish looked the colour of his lime-green tights. The Californian required only one hour 42 minutes to complete the job, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, but still had time to serve his 100th ace of the tournament.

John McEnroe, who was beaten in four sets by Sampras late on Saturday, described him as being as "cool as cucumber" and there was not a trace of nerves when he stepped out to play his first Grand Slam final, with only two singles titles - in Philadelphia and Manchester - to his name. Agassi, the fourth seed, who had been able to pepper Boris Becker with shots in defeating the defending champion in the other semi-final, was scarcely able to put his racket to the balls on the big day.

Sampras, the 12th seed, is the first American to win the championship since McEnroe defeated Ivan Lendl in 1985, and although there was disappointment that the New Yorker had not been able to make it all the way this time an enthusiastic crowd delighted in the first all-American final since 1979.

Having studied videos of the great Rod Laver, Sampras developed his attacking style believing it would be tailored for Wimbledon. With a serve as sure as his this goal could well become reality, although, this year, when also seeded 12 at the All England Club, he was beaten in the first round by the skills of Christo Van Rensburg.

Sampras arrived at Flushing Meadow with career prize-money of $380,932 (pounds 180,000) in his account and two weeks later he is able to deposit a further $350,000 as a Grand Slam champion. British enthusiasts will have an opportunity to see him in November when he is due to play at Wembley. If he serves and volleys even a third as well as he did here they can look forward to a treat.

Agassi, of whom so much was expected, scraped a mere three points off his opponent's serve in the opening set, and was aced three times in a row in the fourth game. The second set was not much more fruitful for the 20-year-old from Las Vegas, Sampras's serve leaking only five points. And, although Agassi had break points in two games in the third set, Sampras again produced the winners when they mattered.

McEnroe took his leave after sundown on Saturday, when the players failed to conform to the script: a subdued Becker lost his title on the baseline, and an emboldened Gabriela Sabatini finally graduated with honours by confounding Steffi Graf with volleys. The defending champions from West Germany were beaten within hours of each other, which meant that both singles trophies were destined to be won by players from this side of the Atlantic for the first time since 1984.

"I will get drunk with orange juice," Sabatini said after a 6-2, 7-6 victory had made her the first woman from Argentina to win a Grand Slam title. Many of her countryfolk no doubt reached for something stronger with which to toast their heroine, coupling her name, perhaps, with that of Guillermo Vilas, who took the French, United States and Australian championships to Buenos Aires in the late 1970s.

The unseeded McEnroe was excellent value while he lasted here, though his performance against Sampras, who attacked from the start and served 17 aces, winning 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, suggested that it was perhaps for the best that the show closed when it did.

Graf's disappointing year, by her standards, continued when Sabatini managed to beat her for the first time in a major event, and for the first time in straight sets. Defeats by Zina Garrison, at Wimbledon, and by Monica Seles, at the French Open, had already troubled the West German, who having congratulated Sabatini fulsomely, commented: "I played some very good matches and, then again, so bad today. I don't have the consistency I used to have. Every loss is disappointing, whether in the finals or the semis. I'm definitely unhappy about it."

From the Sport pages of `The Independent', Monday 10 September 1990