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McEnroe finally beats Sampras

May 3, 2008

The audience at Agganis Arena got what it expected in the first set of the feature match of the Champions Cup last night: Pete Sampras blew through John McEnroe quickly, his powerful serve-and-volley game putting most points out of McEnroe’s reach.

But the match began to veer off track, steered by the 49-year-old McEnroe’s skills. Though he was overwhelmed in the first set, McEnroe hung around. He served and swerved and hit balls that curved to hammer out a win in the second set, then reared back and pounded the ball in the tiebreaker, serving five aces for a 2-6, 7-5, 10-4 victory.

“That’s what you gotta love about sports,” said McEnroe, looking dazed. “Anything can happen.”

It was McEnroe’s first victory over Sampras (they met three times on the ATP Tour, and have played several times in senior play and exhibitions), and the first loss in the Champions Cup for Sampras, who is playing his fourth tournament on the over-30 tour.

“The first game, the pace of the ball was so phenomenal, I felt like I tweaked every muscle in my body,” McEnroe said. “Not only is it a lot of pace, it’s difficult to tell where it’s going. So to react to that, can be dangerous, physically.”

McEnroe wasn’t kidding. After winning a tough match against Jim Courier Thursday, he was a bit sore, a bit tired, a bit depleted. “I had a little bit of tightness from [beating] Courier,” said McEnroe, who got an on-court treatment from the Tour’s trainer after the third game of the second set.

Sampras seemed to have a good grip on the match even as McEnroe tried to work the ball out to the lines and stretch Sampras. But trailing, 4-5, in the set, McEnroe served a love game: rescuing a cross-court shot to hit a forehand volley down the line, and forcing Sampras into two returns that sailed long. McEnroe broke Sampras in the next game, a double fault at game point underscoring Sampras’s weakening power, and McEnroe’s ability hit the lines.

Sampras received on-court treatment, too, before the tiebreaker, for a sore back that he said he tweaked a few weeks ago playing basketball. But he couldn’t work out the kinks in his game.

In the tiebreaker, McEnroe fired five aces (Sampras had one), including two in a row for a 5-2 lead. Sampras rallied with a cross-court winner and a service winner to bring it to 5-4, but then McEnroe fired another ace. He looked as stunned as anyone. McEnroe closed the improbable match with a big serve, which Sampras drove long, giving McEnroe the tiebreak at 10-4, and the match.

“Who would have thought I’d have five aces in the tiebreak, and he’d have one?” said McEnroe. “Now I can tell my kids I beat Pete Sampras once.”

Source: Boston Globe

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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