Pete Sampras earned his first tournament title of the year on Sunday, thrilling a boisterous crowd by beating Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten in a dramatic four-set marathon to win the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida.
Sampras squandered six match points before winning 6-1, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8) in three hours and 18 minutes,
Looking weary, Sampras took a 6-2 lead in the final tiebreaker but then made four consecutive errors to make the score 6-6. He held another match point at 7-6 but double-faulted, and hit a backhand return long at 8-7.
Sampras went ahead again, 9-8, then came to the net behind his serve. Kuerten's forehand passing shot clipped the net cord and sailed long. Sampras raised both arms in jubilation as Kuerten angrily swipped at the ground with his racket, mangling it.
The sellout crowd of 14,145 was evenly divided in its loyalty, with many fans waving Brazilian flags and singing Kuerten's nickname, Guga. But chants of "Let's go Pete" dominated during the tiebreaker.
"I was choking there at the end, feeling my nerves," Sampras said. "But I got through it. ... It was a hard-fought match. My conditioning wasn't there, but the crowd was tremendous. They really got behind me."
Sampras, seeded second behind Andre Agassi, earned his third title at Key Biscayne but his first since 1994. He received $410,000 and Kuerten earned $215,000.
The sixth-seeded Kuerten, 23, beat Agassi in the semi-finals and was bidding for the first hardcourt title of his career.
Sampras, who had 20 aces, dominated with his serve for much of the match, and Kuerten converted just one of six break-point opportunities.
Ericsson Open Results
Men Singles Championship
(2) Pete Sampras (US) def. (6) Gustavo Kuerten (Br) 6-1, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (8).
Women Doubles Championship
Julie Halard-Decugis (Fr) and Ai Sugiyama (Japan) def. Nicole Arendt (US) and Manon Bollegraf (Neth) 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.