The astonishing Pete Sampras won a record 14th Grand Slam singles title at the United States Open here last night, defeating his long-time rival, Andre, Agassi, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, in a fitting climax to the championships.
Seeded 17, the 31-year-old Sampras became the oldest winner of one of the major titles since Arthur Ashe's triumph at Wimbledon in 1975. With Agassi clocking in at 32, the pair were the oldest finalists ever to contest the US Championships.
Hardly given a chance of winning his first title of any kind since defeating Pat Rafter at Wimbledon in 2000, Sampras remained calm and steady throughout the campaign and proved the doubters wrong, not least Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, who after losing to Sampras in the third round, said he would be surprised if the four-times champion won another match in the tournament.
Sampras hit a dozen aces in the opening set, which was over in 29 minutes. When the pair met in an epic quarter-final last year neither man was able to break serve, Sampras winning after four tie-breaks. When none of the first 18 points went against serve last night, eyebrows began to be raised.
It did not take Sampras long to break the deadlock. He cracked Agassi's serve to 15 to take a 5-3 lead, the Las Vegan missing a backhand after Sampras returned a second serve.
However, Sampras's serve showed the first sign of wavering as he served for the set. Two double-faults put him in trouble, three aces one off a second serve pulled him out of it. He converted his third set point, punching away a backhand volley after a second serve.
Agassi hardly had time to catch his breath before Sampras struck again to break in the opening game of the second set, hitting a forehand cross-court drive to create the opportunity and then luring Agassi into playing a backhand wide.
Sampras, who did not drop a point in his first three service games of the set, broke a second time to lead, 5-2. Agassi managed to interrupt the flow of points by break as Sampras served for the set, the Californian hitting a high forehand wide from an Agassi lob.
Agassi held for 4-5, but could only watch the master of the serve go to work again as Sampras served out the set to love at the second time of asking.
Sampras began to tighten midway through the third set. He had to fend off three break points in the sixth game, but was unable to keep Agassi at bay when serving at 5-6. The game went to five deuces before Sampras crumbled, double-faulting for the second time in the game to offer Agassi his second set point, and then netting what, by his standards, seemed a routine forehand volley.
As the contest developed into a survival of the fittest, Agassi, spurred by his comeback in the third set, seemed to find an extra spring in his step. Sampras, now prone to double-faulting, did well to rescue two break points at 1-2 in the fourth set, but then had the misfortune of a doubtful line call when pressing Agassi's serve at 3-3.
The momentum then appeared to swing towards Agassi again. He created a break point at 3-4, thanks partly to his opponent's three double faults, but Sampras's serve once more got him out of trouble.
The crux came with Agassi serving at 4-4. Sampras took him to 0-30, but Agassi pulled back to 30-30. It was he who then double faulted crucially to 30-40. The Las Vegan saved two break points, but Sampras would not be denied, converting the third opportunity for 5-4.
Sampras, serving for the match, hit a second service ace for 40-0 his 33rd ace of the match. Agassi saved the first match point, but Sampras converted the second with a backhand volley to bring the entertainment to a close after two hours and 54 minutes.
Art Garfunkel, who was born here in Queens, gave a moving rendition of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and was joined by his son James in a duet of "America the Beautiful" prior to the start of the match. Garfunkel and Paul Simon, his former song-writing partner, will be remembered for "Mrs Robinson", which contained the nostalgic line about the great Jo DiMaggio, of the New York Yankees: "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns it's lonely eyes on you." When the long-retired DiMaggio first heard the song, he said, "What's with those guys? Don't they know I can't do it anymore?" Last night, amid a flood of emotion, Sampras and Agassi proved themselves still worthy of centre stage.
US Open Results
Men's Singles Championship
(17) Pete Sampras (US) def. (6) Andre Agassi (US) 6–3 6–4 5–7 6–4
(1) Serena Williams (US) def. (2) Venus Williams (US) 6–4 6–3
Women's Doubles Championship
(2) Virginia Ruano Pascual (Spa) and Paola Suarez (Arg) def. (6) Elena Dementieva (Rus) and Janette Husarova (Slvk) 6–2 6–1
Men's Doubles Championship
(3) Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) and Max Mirnyi (Blr) def. (11) Jiri Novak and Radek Stepanek (Cze) 6–3 3–6 6–4
Mixed Doubles Championship
(2) Lisa Raymond and Mike Bryan (US) def. Katarina Srebotnik (Slo) and Bob Bryan (US) 7–6(9) 7–6(1)
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