It was the anti-glamour final, played out, for the first two sets, at least, amid a curiously subdued mood that not even the Princess of Wales could enliven with her constant applause for Sampras. 'Maybe she's got a crush on me,' the new champion said later, finally locating the on-switch for his soundbites machine.
Before his time is up, Sampras ought to attract a great many other adherents, royal and otherwise, for the quality of his play and the steadfastness of his demeanour. He is the emotional counterpoint to Agassi in men's tennis, but no less deserving of veneration as he crosses the divide into hyper-celebrity.
However charged it felt in the nation's living rooms, this match was way behind the Agassi-Goran Ivanisevic final on the passion meter. Through the first set, it was more like an artillery competition than tennis, with Sampras and Jim Courier firing down monster serves to take them both, unbroken, to a tie-break.
Not till the second game of the second set did a game reach deuce. Not before Sampras was two sets up was there a break of serve. Without the two tie-breaks, the first set could still be going on now, with each player metronomically holding serve. It was deuceless, juiceless stuff.
It was time, for some, to repeat old arguments about this being a less than ideal match- up. What we had now (the argument ran) was the ball-beating, baseline-hugging style of Courier against the superbly gifted but annoyingly diffident Sampras. Never mind that here were the players ranked one and two in the world. Where was the stagecraft? Where was the fire?
When it came, it was brief but brilliant. Great lunges across court as Courier sought to stem Sampras's revival in the fourth set. Finally, Courier's last-chance pursuit of every ball when Sampras was serving for the match at 5-3. If the Centre Court had earlier resembled the House of Lords on a wet Tuesday afternoon, now the rafters needed nailing down as the match moved towards its zenith.
Sampras managed the final leap. The one that will lift him far above both academic questions of computer rankings and flattering predictions from past greats like Fred Perry.
Doubtless the tennis establishment loved it. Apart from one brush with British chauvinism in his match against Andrew Foster, Sampras has retained his angelic bearing throughout this tournament, and is the kind of emissary the wing-commanders of the All England club dream about.
Even his victory salute was measured. Raised arms, but no dive to the turf like an Agassi. The trophy was dutifully paraded to all four corners of the ground. Later, Sampras sat on the players' balcony drinking tea (no champagne baths or cavalcades to the nearest nightclub). The post-match ball at the Savoy was still to be attended, but Sampras was hoping for an early night.
Nor should he apologise for doing things his own way. The overriding memory of Sampras at this tournament has been the calibre of his play. The ease of movement, the deftness of touch, the boldness in taking the harder option when a straight return would have sufficed. The fact that Courier and Sampras were in this final suggested that a new order is really taking hold; one which Edberg and Lendl and even Becker will struggle to dislodge in future Grand Slam events.
Everything else is peripheral, as Sampras himself insisted under questioning from the similarly smooth Des Lynam. 'The articles I read sometimes; they say that Pete Sampras is dull, Pete Sampras is boring,' the new champion said. 'It just goes in one ear and out the other.'
So it should.Reuse content