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King Pete is Aiming for French Crowing Glory!

January 31, 1994

A Digger's hat sufficed for a crown as Pete Sampras was again hailed the modern king of tennis.

Never one of the game's madcaps, there were no victory pranks as Sampras celebrated his third consecutive Grand Slam triumph in the Australian Open.

Not for Sampras a celebratory Jim Courier-type dive into the Yarra River. Nor a bizarre Boris Becker dance around a gum tree while the Flinders Park crowd waited for the presentation.

But the 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Todd Martin put Sampras into regal company with tennis legends he has revered since childhood.

No man since Rod Laver 24 years ago has won three Grand Slam championships in a row. No man since Roy Emerson four years earlier has taken the Wimbledon, United States and Australian titles in that order.

Yet within minutes of victory Sampras was thinking about going one better and becoming only the third man in history after Laver and Don Budge, to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

"Winning the French Open and completing the set is definitely going to be hard to achieve. But I feel that win on clay will be the biggest challenge of my career," said Sampras before he had even banked his £200,000 winnings. "I still feel I am a bit behind the Couriers and the Sergi Bruguera's on clay. I need a little more time to mature but one time I'll just get lucky."

Luck had nothing to do with the two hours 33 minutes defeat of big final rookie Martin.

Sampras did not produce the level of play that completely eclipsed defending champion Courier in the semi-final, but even the world No.1 can only achieve that level of on-court brilliance once or twice during his career.

Apart from a close first set that saw Sampras's self assurance pull him through in the tie-break, he was largely superior to 6ft 6in Martin who dwarfed him by 5 inches.

In only his second service game Sampras unleashed a 125mph ace, the second fastest of the tournament, but ninth seed Martin refused to accept second best until he hit a crucial volley into the net to trail in the tie-break. From that point Martin seemed deflated and it appeared only matter of time before Sampras added another title.

In last September's US Open final, Cedric Pioline fell away in three sets and it became increasingly apparent Martin was going to do the same.

But as coach Tim Gullikson pointed out afterwards: "Pete has more options to his game than players like Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe or Jim Courier."

"Nowadays he does not let negative things build up inside and he has the ability to make great players look ordinary."

Martin is not a great player yet but beaten semi-finalist Stefan Edberg can vouch he is more than useful. Try as he might, he could not halt the Sampras victory charge.

Whereas the first set took 63 minutes, the second was a 45-minute sprint and the third looked to be going even quicker when, Sampras admitted, he let his thoughts wonder.

"I knew what was at stake, three consecutive Grand Slams. I knew only six players had done it in the past and that was on my mind," said Sampras. "Instead of taking things point by point, I was looking ahead and taking things for granted." Officials were beginning to busy themselves for the presentation and the victory cheques had even been written when Martin raced to three break points.

Sampras saved two but a forehand flew long to introduce a brief air of tension. But he simply re-gathered his concentration, let Martin hold his serve and then delivered another couple of aces to set up two championship points. In the end he only needed one, sweeping a forehand across court before raising both hands in that increasingly familiar victory gesture.

Martin said: "He is just too good I guess, but he deserves everything he is getting because he is working his butt off." Few in tennis could be more succinct.

Article supplied by Georgia Christoforou