THANK you very much, God bless you, and hasta la vista. Pete Sampras is out of here with the Wimbledon title, and deservedly so. He takes with him the memory of a cheering Centre Court crowd.
Life has improved one hundred per cent for the 21-year-old Californian since this day last week, when his shoulder injury began to nag at him and he temporarily soured his relationship with British spectators with an outburst before leaving Court 14 after defeating Andrew Foster in the fourth round.
Sampras won the Independence Day final against his fellow-American, Jim Courier, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, in temperatures that threatened to barbecue players and spectators alike. A thermometer on the court recorded 105 F to round off the first uninterrupted championships since 1977.
Fred Perry, the last Briton to raise the trophy, in 1936, had foreseen this day after watching Sampras win his first title, in Philadelphia in 1990, and was there in the Royal Box, joining in the applause.
Sampras defeated Andre Agassi and Boris Becker, two former champions, to reach the final, and though he was beginning to look increasingly weary from the start of the third set yesterday, his ability to deliver second serves with almost as much venom (97 mph on average) and accuracy as his first serves (110 mph on average) kept Courier at bay. He hit 22 aces yesterday, and a total of 108 for the tournament. Goran Ivanisevic delivered 206 last year, 37 in the final.
The hot, dry fortnight guaranteed that Courier would at least be able to look forward to a firm surface for his ground strokes if he survived the opening week. He nearly did not, the referee, Alan Mills, saving him from disqualification on the middle Saturday when the umpire, Jeremy Shales, was on the point of showing him the gates for abusive language.
As the tournament progressed and the courts became balder the Cincinnati Reds fan from Florida was line- driving like Pete Rose. He was also prepared to gamble at the net when occasion demanded.
Courier arrived with the disappointment of losing his French Open title to Sergi Bruguera but determined to learn from Agassi's baseline triumph last year. He realised that return of serve was the crucial element, and though he was able to read Stefan Edberg's shots with a high degree of success in the semi-finals, he managed to win only nine points off Sampras's second serve.
Sampras also had worked hard to improve his returning, shortening his backswing to make time to meet the low bounces, and the confidence he gained from taming Becker in straight sets carried over yesterday.
Spectators required patience. Neither player created a break point or even took the other to deuce in the opening set, their tit-for-tat approach typified when Courier hit two aces in the ninth game and Sampras struck three in the 10th, dropping only eight points on his serve on the way to the tie-break.
Sampras dominated the shoot-out, taking a 3-0 lead and producing his sixth ace before securing his second set point with a high forehand volley.
The first break point in the match - a set point - came Sampras's way at 5-4 in the second set. So, too, did the one contentious incident. Courier believed a forehand over the baseline from Sampras had given him a game point until the umpire, Sultan Gangji, overruled. Courier expressed his disappointment, but the point was replayed, a backhand cross-court pass giving Sampras the advantage. Courier salvaged the situation, causing his opponent to make a vain dive, a la Becker, in attempting to intercept a forehand drive.
Sampras saw a second set point disappear in the 12th game when Courier lofted a backhand to the line, and he then contrived to save a set point at
5-6 in the tie-break with a fortuitous forehand volley. 'He just hit a 'choker' volley, but it went in,' Courier lamented. Courier then steered a forehand return over the baseline off a second serve to offer a third set point, and Sampras won an exchange of drives to win the tie-break, 8-6.
The third set was far livelier, Sampras twice double-faulting when being broken for 0-2. The danger now was that he might again begin to worry about the condition of his shoulder. He did not, breaking back immediately. Another crisis came when he lost serve again in the eighth game, but he was able to put two dreadful volleying errors out of his mind after losing the set.
Courier's hopes of driving Sampras into a fifth set may have been encouraged by the sight of his opponent icing his neck and covering his head with a towel during the change-overs. But when Sampras returned he was able to find the resources to withstand Courier's shots and produce serves of sufficient capacity to keep winning the majority of the points.
He broke for 4-2, Courier tumbling at the back of the court in pursuit of the winning forehand drive. The most spectacular point of the match came on the first point of the ninth game, with Sampras serving out the match. Courier raised a fist after winning a sequence of volleys, cross-court drives and half-volleys. The elation was short. He saved one match point, but netted a backhand off a Sampras volley on the second.
Aside from the trophy, the winner's cheque for pounds 305,000 to add to his pounds 5.56m in prize-money, untold millions to add to future endorsements and the prestige that goes with the world's most coveted tennis title, Sampras validated himself as the world No 1.
Since supplanting Courier on the ATP Tour rankings computer in April, Sampras constantly has been told that he was No 1 in name only, having not won a Grand Slam title since the 1990 United States Open, while Courier has twice won the Australian and French championships.
Sampras's chief problem was that his US Open triumph as a 19-year-old pre-dated his maturity, both as a player and a personality. By his own admission, he 'just got hot for a couple of weeks', his pin-point serves destroying, in turn, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Agassi. Jimmy Connors was scathing when Sampras said that losing the title the following year was 'like a monkey off my back', but more sympathetic observers understood what he meant.
Nobody, least of all Courier, begrudged him his success yesterday. But please, Pete, refrain from the habit of telling the folks back home that you are the Wimpleton, or even Wimpletin, champion. You are the Wimbledon champion, and have every right to be proud of it.
----------------------------------------------------------------- MEN'S FINAL STATISTICS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Sampras won 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3, in 2hr 58min. SAMPRAS COURIER 62 per cent First serve in 54 per cent 22 Aces 9 6 Double faults 6 77 per cent Points won on serve 68 per cent 123mph 1st serve speed (max) 118mph 110mph 1st serve speed (ave) 105mph 32/55 Points won at net 19/32 34/82 Points won at baseline 52/105 53 per cent Total points won 47 per cent 19/28 Game points won 19/29 2/5 Break points won 2/2 -----------------------------------------------------------------
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