reports from New York
Pete Sampras added the United States Open to his Wimbledon title yesterday, defeating Andre Agassi, the defending champion, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 after two hours and 28 minutes. In spite of the loss, Agassi retains his status ahead of his American rival as the world No 1. Agassi had beaten Sampras at the Australian Open in January, the year's first Grand Slam, and had also won their last two finals on rubberised concrete courts. But Sampras found the inspiration last night, and nudged ahead in their head-to-head series, 9-8.
Agassi was unfortunate to lose the first set after dominating all but one of his five service games. Sampras, whose returns had gleaned only two points, struggled uncharacteristically to hold. He double-faulted twice in the fifth game, the second presenting Agassi with the first opportunity to break. At that point, Sampras produced a winning delivery of 126mph.
The set appeared to be drifting towards a tie-break when events suddenly conspired against Agassi in the 10th game. Sampras's first break point, aided by a net-cord as he advanced to play a half-volley, happened to be a set point, a fact which shook Agassi after his earlier efforts had come to nought.
Sampras netted a service return on that one, only to be presented with a second chance when his opponent hit a wild forehand volley wide of the far line. Agassi fought hard to rescue the situation, and the players belted the ball to the four corners of the court in a stirring rally until Sampras stranded his opponent wide to the right and played a backhand into the empty court to go one up.
Agassi had a chance to break in the opening game of the second set, but was denied by a forehand cross-court pass, Sampras finishing with an ace. The Las Vegan then made another costly volley error, finding the net with a forehand from close range to lose his serve in the second game.
Sampras, playing with more rhythm than formerly, began to let the aces flow. He hit six in three games - four in a row - and wound up the set in 34 minutes with an ace on a second serve after Agsssi had saved two set points. On the first, Sampras fell while attempting a forehand, and the trainer was called to treat his right hand early in the third set. By then, Sampras had already broken for 2-1, Agassi double-faulting before being betrayed by another net-cord, the ball standing up for his opponent to put away with a forehand across the court.
Just when it seemed that Sampras was about to stride to victory, errors began to creep back into his play. He twice double-faulted and then netted a backhand to provide Agassi with an opening, and found the net again with a half volley under pressure on break point.
Sampras double-faulted for a sixth time to give Agassi sight of a fourth set. A 122mph service winner delayed the Las Vegan, but he leaped upon a second set point, passing Sampras with a mighty forehand.
Sampras's serve was on target again in the fourth set. He delivered four aces in the sixth game, and allowed Agassi little scope to hit his famed returns.
Under such pressure, Agassi began to put more emphasis on his own serves, and double-faulted to offer Sampras three match points in the 11th game. Agassi saved two, but hit a forehand long on the third. Sampras served out to love, finishing with his 24th ace of the match, bringing his haul for the tournament to 142.
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