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Sampras serves up his own tribute

September 8, 1996

Pete Sampras saved his Grand Slam season and delivered a birthday tribute to a beloved friend by beating longtime rival Michael Chang in straight sets to defend his US Open title.

Sampras, who nearly collapsed on court during a fifth-set tie-breaker in the quarter-finals, was at the top of his game in the final in claiming a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(7-3) victory for his fourth Open crown and eighth Grand Slam championship.

The win was worth US$600,000 to Sampras, who extended his streak to four successive seasons with at least one Grand Slam title on what would have been the 45th birthday of coach and mentor Tim Gullikson, who died this spring of brain cancer.

The top-seeded Sampras also retained his world number one status in fighting off the pesky second-seeded Chang, who would have leapfrogged him in the rankings with a victory.

"It definitely saved my year," said Sampras.

Earlier, Steffi Graf also confirmed her top seeding by beating Monica Seles 7-5, 6-4 to successfully defend her title.

Sampras' powerhouse serve carried him past Chang. But his groundstrokes also had their familiar zing, unlike the form he showed in his painful struggle against unseeded Spaniard Alex Corretja in the quarters.

Sampras said Gullikson was also on his mind.

"Today was Tim's birthday. He would've been 45 today. I was thinking about him a lot all day," he said. "I still feel his spirit. I wouldn't be here without him."

Sampras had his seven broken only once by Chang as he beat him for the ninth time in their last 10 meetings to extend his lead in their personal series to 11-7.

For Sampras it was a booming start, setting the tone with his first swing of the racquet with a sizzling 201km/h service winner.

"I played my best tennis of the entire tournament against Michael," said Sampras.

"The first two sets I played as well as I could, I got off to a great start. It really set the tone."

I'll be back, says beaten but unbowed Chang

Irrepressible Michael Chang delivered a parting message to Pete Sampras after losing to his longtime rival in the US Open final.

"I've seen a heck of a lot of Pete in the juniors since we were eight years old, and whether he likes it or not he is going to be seeing a heck of a lot of me until his career is over," said Chang, who first played Sampras 17 years ago in California.

The pair have carried on their rivalry in the pros, and Sampras' 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) win to defend his Open title was his ninth win over Chang in their past 10 matches.

Despite holding the upper hand now, 25-year-old Sampras knows that Chang will never give up the fight.

"Michael earns his wins and makes his living fighting, and this is his character," said Sampras. "That is what makes him a champion and he will be around for the next five, six, seven, 10 years."

"Chang began his meteoric rise in 1989, becoming, at the French Open, the youngest men's Grand Slam champion. He has now moved up a place in the world rankings to number two…behind Sampras.

Article supplied by Ida Tang



Sanpras gets quick victory over Chang for Open title

September 8, 1996

NEW YORK - Pete Sampras was in a hurry to win his fourth U.S. Open championship. While workers were still drying the Louis Armstrong Stadium Court from a downpour following the women's final, Sampras began warming up.

The top-seeded Sampras continued the accelerated pace in the final, mopping up No. 2 seed Michael Chang, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), in just under two hours yesterday.

Playing in his first U.S. Open final, Chang picked the wrong day to try to dethrone Sampras.

"I played one of the best matches of my career,'' Sampras said.

The fans who waited through the 2-1/2-hour rain delay to see the last match on the National Tennis Center's Louis Armstrong Stadium Court didn't get much reward for their patience. With Sampras dictating most points, the men's final was decided in straight sets for the fifth time in the last seven years.

"Ah, it's over,'' a relieved Sampras said as he sat down for the postmatch interview. "This definitely saved my year. The first two sets, I played about as well as I could.''

With the win, the world's No. 1-ranked player avoided a shutout in the Grand Slam tournaments this year. Sampras's difficult season has included the death in May of his coach and friend, Tim Gullickson, and a gut-wrenching, five-set victory over Spain's Alex Corretja in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

Yesterday was Gullickson's birthday. He would have been 45.

"I've been thinking about him all day and all during the match, about things he told me,'' Sampras said. "I still feel his spirit. He is still very much in my heart.''

Chang, also an Australian Open finalist this year, entered the final with the best summer hardcourt record on the ATP Tour: 22-2. Sampras was third, 13-1. In the Open semifinals, Sampras defeated No. 4 seed Goran Ivanisevic, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (7-9), 6-3; Chang dismissed a curiously listless Andre Agassi, the No. 6 seed, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Chang's best chance to extend the match and deprive Sampras of his eighth Grand Slam title occurred in the third set. With Chang ahead, 6-5, and Sampras serving, the defending champion faced set point. But a half-volley by Chang clipped the net cord and bounced back. On his third game point, Sampras lashed a backhand winner down the line.

In the tiebreaker, Sampras seized a 6-2 lead. Chang saved the first championship point, but on the one he hit a return long. Sampras raised both arms skyward, then tossed his racket into the stands behind the baseline.

Chang, who is deeply religious, wasn't crushed by the loss. He said he will continue to pursue Sampras because "the Lord has His timing for everything.''

Sampras, 25, has a different perspective. "I have never been a big believer in fate or destiny,'' Sampras said. "I just feel you go out and play and win.''

The final was a continuation of a rivalry that began in junior tennis in California when they were 8 years old. Sampras has won nine of the last 10 meetings with Chang, but there was a time when the player known as "the Roadrunner'' tormented Sampras.

Although Chang has improved his serve, Sampras still has the bigger serve and more weapons.

Said Chang: "I wanted to dictate a little better (but) I had quite a few unforced errors. Pete wasn't pressing me. Maybe I was trying to press him too much.''

Chang's major problem was Sampras, who was in "the zone,'' where everything he did worked.

"It was a great start. Everything was just clicking,'' Sampras said. "Those are days you just dream about, especially in a final.''

Sampras sees more Grand Slam conquests ahead.

"The title is so much more important to me than the (No. 1) ranking,'' he said. "The fact that I have won a number of (Grand Slam events) over the past three or four years, the more I want to win them.''

By winning, Pete Sampras matches John McEnroe's four U.S. Opens. He is one behind Jimmy Connors . . . In 1978, the first year the Open was played at the National Tennis Center, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert each collected $38,000 for winning the singles titles. Yesterday, Sampras and Steffi Graf each won $600,000.

(c) 1996, Philadelphia Daily News. Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services.



Sampras, Graf Storm to U.S. Open Titles
Win over Chang `Saves my year'

September 9, 1996

New York -- They came up together through the junior ranks in Southern California, three wildly different personalities, bonded only in their reputation as the hottest kids around.

Some 15 years later, not a whole lot has changed. They're the best America has to offer, three separate continents on the tennis globe. Andre Agassi is a seeker of eternal coolness. Michael Chang puts everything behind family and religion.

Pete Sampras is mostly into winning.

They were comparing Sampras to the greats of modern tennis yesterday after his 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) victory over Chang in the final of the U.S. Open. With his eighth Grand Slam title, he blew past John McEnroe and drew even with Jimmy Connors, Fred Perry, Ivan Lendl and Ken Rosewall (Roy Emerson is the all-time leader with 12). That's Sampras' thing. The other guys might fancy a place in history; Sampras lives, dreams and breathes it.

This was his fourth U.S. Open title and his second straight, but somehow, it was absolutely vital to his status in the game. After he defeated Agassi so impressively in last year's Open final, Tennis Magazine said Sampras "need never again remind us of how good he is.'' But that really wasn't true. We did need a reminder. More importantly, so did Sampras.

"I hadn't won a Slam this year and that's my whole thing,'' said Sampras. "It's not like my career would be over if I lost today, but this really saves my year.''

Instead of wondering if he'd ever get over the weighty burdens of his life -- the death of good friend Vitas Gerulaitis, the passing of coach Tim Gullikson, the constant questions about his physical conditioning -- Sampras is back on top, the undisputed No. 1 player in the world. They're throwing out names like Tilden, Budge, Laver and Borg when they talk about Sampras now, because he's just 25 years old and thoroughly obsessed with winning.

"The more I play, the more I want the Slams,'' he said. "It's not the money, it's not the commercials. It's the titles. That's what I'll be remembered for, and I think about that a lot.''

Sampras probably thought he'd see Agassi, his old buddy, in yesterday's final, which was delayed 2 1/2 hours by an afternoon thunderstorm. Instead there was Chang, who dispatched an oddly spiritless Agassi during Saturday's semifinals. Just another ancient rivalry, Pete figured; he first met Chang when the two were 7 and 8 years old.

"That goes so far back, you wouldn't recognize Pete,'' said Chang. "I was taller than he was.''

Neither man can remember who won that first match in a 10- and-under regional in Poway (outside San Diego), but Sampras remembers the rest. He remembers being dominated by Chang as he made the transition from two- handed baseliner to a one-handed serve-and-volleyer. He remembers going 1-6 against Chang in the pros, including a straight-set thrashing in the first round of the 1989 French Open -- Chang's only Grand Slam title, as it turns out.

As the years went on, Sampras became a championship player in the mold of his idol, Rod Laver. Chang didn't really change much. He embraced religion, used every opportunity to "praise the Lord'' in his press conferences and signed every autograph, "Jesus loves you -- Michael Chang.'' But he was still the quickest, most determined player Sampras had ever seen. Even yesterday, with eight wins in his last nine matches against Chang, Sampras felt a little nervous, like every fighter who ever stepped in against Joe Frazier.

It turned into a rout, more thorough than anyone could have imagined. Sampras steamrolled through the first set and closed it out with a two-point resume of his ability. First came a delicate, cross- court touch volley, picked off his ankles with the backhand, a shot that kissed the net and dropped quietly to the ground. Then came a blistering ace. Touch and power. A vintage slice of Sampras.

In the second set, Sampras scored a critical service break for 5-4 when Chang netted a backhand approach at 30-40. Then he served it out, clinching the set when a Chang forehand sailed long.

This was becoming pure validation for Sampras. Validation of his incredible quarterfinal victory against Alex Corretja, a match that now becomes part of a championship run. Validation of his skills, and his dedication to Tim Gullikson's memory.

"This is one of the best matches I've played in my career,'' said Sampras. "It was one of those you dream about, where everything's clicking. A couple of times I stopped to thank Tim for all he taught me.''

Chang, true to his soul, gave it a mighty run. If his forehand hadn't caught the net-cord in the 12th game, sitting up so Sampras could unload a cross-court hammer, Chang might have won the third set outright. Instead, there was a tiebreaker. There were massive forehand winners from Sampras, and finally a Chang service return that went long.

"I believe everything happens for a reason, and I'll never count myself out,'' said Chang. "Pete's been No. 1 pretty much for three years, but I'm No. 2 now. I have to stay positive. Hopefully, I'm the next in line.''

For Sampras, it's more Slams than McEnroe. Tied with Connors. The titles are stacking up like the poker chips of a red-hot card shark. And that's just how he likes it.



1996 US Open Championship
Post Match Interview

Pete SAMPRAS defeated Michael Chang
6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3)

September 8, 1996

An interview with: PETE SAMPRAS

PETE SAMPRAS: It's over.

Q. So, has the crash of '96 ended?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, this definitely saved my year. I mean, first two sets today I thought I played about as well as I could. Got off to a great start. Set the tone. What can I say? I mean, these past two weeks I have played my share of great tennis and poor tennis and got through the Corretja match and I never thought I would be here as the winner. But I thought hard and played the best match of the tournament today against Michael, and so it really saves my year. It really does. It wasn't a bad year, but this will definitely make the rest of the '96 season very enjoyable to play.

Q. Matchpoint, you put your arms in the air and you looked to the sky. What were you thinking at that point, Pete?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, today is Tim's birthday. He would have been 45 today and I was thinking about him all day today and all during the match and things he told me to do on the court and I still felt his spirit and even though he is not with us, he is still very much in my heart and I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for his help and it was nice. I saw Tom when I was holding up the trophy and that was a nice moment. So, I am just glad it is over. I really -- just didn't really feel like playing another set.

Q. What are one or two things that Tim would have said to you or you thought about before going on?

PETE SAMPRAS: He has always thought, as far as technically on the court, playing Michael, really set the tone. His second serve is attackable and return and smack some forehands because it is one of my best shots. That is something he would have told me. He seen him play for so many years that he knows. I still remember things he has told me, so that would be one thing that he would have said.

Q. When you beat Corretja, did you at that point say this is meant to be?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I thought it could have meant to be at the French, but we all know what happened there. I don't know. Whatever happened, happened. Against Ivanisevic, I felt -- I had a day off after Corretja -- maybe this was meant to be. I don't know. I mean, I have never been a big believer in fate or destiny. I just feel you go out and play and win. That is it. This year has been very difficult at times on and off the court and this really leaves a very happy thought and some really good memories here.

Q. When you won in 1990, you said you were barely conscious. What was happening? How is it different this time?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, 1990 I really - I really couldn't appreciate what it takes to win a major. I was just kind of playing on instinct and kind of in a zone for the past couple of matches. In 1990 and now over the course of the years, I know what it takes to win majors. You need to play great tennis. You need a little bit of luck on your side and back then, it was kind of like a fantasy, the way I played, kind of a dream world and now it takes a lot of hard work and dedication and after Wimbledon and it paid off.

Q. You came out so strong today, did you feel you were in a zone or...

PETE SAMPRAS: I felt -- yeah, I felt a little bit. When I got off, it was a great start. My serve was there, everything was just clicking. Those are days you just dream about, especially in a final and I knew he would come around and start playing better and he did in the third set. He served a lot better and made it tight and I played real solid tiebreaker, hit some good shots and it was one of my best matches I played in my career. I mean, Michael the way he played against Andre, I knew it was going to be a tough battle.

Q. Did you play more different -- kind or beat more different kinds of games in this tournament than in others; you beat Chang's kind of game, Ivanisevic's game?

PETE SAMPRAS: You know, it is hard to say. Each, you know, it is such a contrast playing yesterday against Goran. You don't know what he is going to do; what he is going to serve. Michael, you kind of know what to expect. He is going to be -- stay back. It is a huge contrast. I have played some Majors where I have had a lot of different styles of players, Corretja who stayed back and played kind of a clay court match. You just have to adapt and I did that well today.

Q. You look back at the history head-to-head with Michael which match do you think turned that around for you --

PETE SAMPRAS: I can't remember. I don't know. I don't know. I mean, there was a time where four, five years ago, I was having a lot of trouble against Michael. He was beating me a number of times. I don't know where I beat him. I eventually started getting a hold of his game and playing better and beat him last four, five times.

Q. Eight or nine?

PETE SAMPRAS: Eight or nine.

Q. Is this win sweet enough for you to forget all of your losses this year?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the losses have been forgotten for quite a while. You mean what happened at Wimbledon and the French, it happened and it is over, and just try to look ahead, but, you know, my main goal when it is January 1 is to win a major title, and this is my last chance to do it and I did it. So, in a lot of ways, I didn't feel like there was a lot of pressure that my career was over after this if I didn't win it, but I'd say it is a great way to end.

Q. Was there a risk that you might have been putting too much pressure on yourself?

PETE SAMPRAS: Not really. The overall picture, I am only 25 and it is not like this is it for me. I mean, I am going to have many more Majors ahead of me and, you know, eventually work hard enough, you are going to win some, and this one is - was the most difficult. I think I have won because of the way I felt physically against Corretja and just past couple of months - this is sweet.

Q. Are you proud of yourself right now?

PETE SAMPRAS: I am, even though, I am pretty stoic. I was in the back with all the boys and real happy, and I am pumped, I really am. I felt -- I just was so glad that shot was out on matchpoint. I just wanted it to be over, you know, Michael, he doesn't give you an inch. He really doesn't. Always fights to the end and I am pumped. I am really happy.

Q. What is the schedule for the rest of the year?

PETE SAMPRAS: I have a couple of weeks off and I play some events over in Europe, Basel and Paris and Stuttgart and ATP Finals in Hannover and -- over in Europe I will be playing.

Q. Four events?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, about four or five events.

Q. Does the fact that Michael is so stubborn make winning this that much better, that you had - that he challenged you; didn't lay down at any point?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I don't think anyone would lay down at this situation, whoever I played in the final. I mean, everyone - whoever I would play today, if it was Andre, wouldn't have laid down, but Michael especially, is a feisty player. He is so competitive and wouldn't give me a point. He is a very tough guy to beat. He makes you earn every point you win, so, you know, it is a rivalry that I have had since we were seven, eight years old growing up in California. I battled with him through the juniors and pros, and, you know, we both have come along way from the junior days and it is a rivalry that will continue, I believe. I mean, he is obviously a great player.

Q. Would it surprise you that he was just in here and he said a couple of things, one, that you are a lot older than he is - ( audience laughter)?

PETE SAMPRAS: A lot taller too.

Q. Right (audience laughter) He said that he is not going away; that he will be pursuing you for a long time. Does that surprise you?

PETE SAMPRAS: That doesn't surprise me at all. Michael earns his wins and makes his living fighting and fighting and fighting and that is his character. That is what makes him a champion and he will be around for the next five, six, seven-- ten years. So he is -- all the guys, Courier, Agassi, Martin -- just go down the list, Michael is going to be one of those guys that is going to be threatening to take the top spot and win major titles.

Q. What makes you a champion? You said that is what makes Michael a champion?

PETE SAMPRAS: I feel like I can do some things, you know, I can my serve and I can stay back and hit the forehand pretty well. I feel like, you know, I have got a pretty good all-around court game. If things aren't working well in one area, I can rely on something else. I don't know. I mean, that is something I really don't think about.

Q. Nothing just technical?


Q. Anything other than technical?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I don't know, I will let you guys conclude that.

Q. You look at your contemporaries and Michael talked about this a little bit growing up and Jim and Andre and David and him and you, yet you are the guy who has got the lion's share of the titles now. Who, going back to those junior years, who is the guy you thought was like really going to be the big player if anyone?

PETE SAMPRAS: All of them. I mean, I always felt Michael and Andre, especially Andre when he was growing up in the juniors by far, of the other guys, he was the most talented; just a matter of him putting it together and Michael -- I didn't know Michael was going to win the French. I thought maybe at such a young age and I think the fact that we had each other to play against and the competition, you know, it really made us better players. We grew up together battling, but I would have to say, you know, all those guys you mentioned, I expected to be in the top 10, top 20 and -- but it was a good rivalry.

Q. Do you think no matter what happens this year you are pretty much No. 1 on the year; you can relax?

PETE SAMPRAS: At this point the ranking can just -- you know, playing today the ranking was up for grabs and I wanted the title. The title is so much more important to me than the ranking. You know, so whatever happens the rest of the year, if I am ended No. 2 or No. 3, I have achieved what I wanted to achieve this year and that was to win a major and so that is it.

Q. Michael was saying that there is always a lucky shot somewhere along the way. He cited Becker's net cord against Rostagno in 1989. Would you put it down to that second serve ace?

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, that was against Corretja?

Q. Yeah.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, that was the single shot that I don't know where that came from. I think it came from the man upstairs.

Q. Tim?

PETE SAMPRAS: Tim. Came from Tim. That shot, I will never forget and the reaction of the crowd was awesome. I will never forget those moments when I really could feel the crowd chanting my name Pete and to win, that was awesome. You know, just decided I really didn't want to play the point. I wanted to hit a wide side and it went a lot better than I thought it would.

Q. Understanding that you have been concentrating on winning the title, have you started to get a feel for how intrigued people were with that Corretja match? They are still talking about it.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, I purposely, the day after the match, I didn't come out to the site. I didn't really -- unfortunately for you guys -- didn't want to talk about it because I wanted to prepare for Goran, but, you know, everyone has been talking about it and just with the crowd and the vomiting and all that stuff, I guess it was dramatic (audience laughter).

Q. That is a word.

PETE SAMPRAS: So I don't know what to say, I mean, maybe over the next couple of years I will reflect on and see the tape of the match and appreciate it a little bit more than I do now.

Q. Today you came out a half an hour before the match began; hit some balls before the squeegees were even put away. Were you chomping at the bit before you got going and did that help you get such a good start?

PETE SAMPRAS: I got down to the referee's room. I always do that before the match. I was sitting there 2, 3 hours watching the ballgame. You are cooped up all day not really doing anything, it is good to get out and get some fresh air; hit some balls; move around, kind of break a little sweat. I did that. I don't know if it helped me get off to a great start, but I will do it again if it works.

Q. How many Grand Slams have you won?

PETE SAMPRAS: You should know that.

Q. I do.


Q. Do you know who is next? I'd like to get as many as I can. I'd like to be on the list.

PETE SAMPRAS: Yeah, that I think the fact that I have won a number of them over the past three or four years, the more I want to win them. The other titles are nice, but when it is all and said and done, you look at your career, these matches are going to stand out, the match against Agassi is going to stand out last year and all the Majors that I have won so far will stand out. It is not the money. It is not the commercials. The titles, that is what I will be remembered for and I will think about that a lot.

Q. Since you are so far ahead of your contemporaries in your Grand Slam titles, is it the old guys that are your real competition?

PETE SAMPRAS: No, everyone is competition.

Q. Is the French looming before you since it is the one major you haven't won?

PETE SAMPRAS: I rather not talk about the French (audience laughter) Yeah, I have thought about it, but once it comes around next year, I will prepare a little bit better than I did this year and now I know I can win there with the players I beat there and a surface I feel that I can play well on. I just need a little bit of luck on my side and hopefully one day I can win it. You know, it is in my thoughts, but I don't think about it a lot.

Q. Is the quarterfinal or the win tonight, in your own mind, is your winning last year a special moment --

PETE SAMPRAS: I do not think you can put the one over the other. I mean, last year was a huge moment for Andre and myself. He was the hottest player on the Tour and so much media hype and, you know, a lot of pressure at stake and they are both huge matches, you can't put one over the other. I think this one I got through some tough matches against Novak and Corretja, maybe this could be a little sweeter, but they are all big.

Q. Why does one basketball team always win 120 to 118, it seems that there is a will factor involved?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, I don't know if it is so much a will. I think it is the game. I think it is the guy you are playing. I feel like my game matches up pretty well against Michael. I can serve well. I can rally with him, and Michael pretty much has to do what he does best, that is, stay back and grind and come in when he has to. The thing against Michael if you are not playing well, if you are not serving well, it is a tough day. That is, but if I am playing well, I will be dominating and setting the tone, then I believe the match will go my way, so you know, when it comes to a fifth set, you know, then it comes down to will and heart and fortunately we didn't have to go through that.

Q. You talked about the crowd Thursday night. Today it seemed a little bit dead, you were waving the racket actually for the fans to get up and cheer. Had you ever had to do that before?

PETE SAMPRAS: Well, the first couple of sets were smooth and they were trying to get Michael into the match and I could feel the crowd trying to spur him on and I just -- I am also American, so (audience laughter) but I think the crowd wanted to see more tennis, I could understand that. It was a very long day for everyone and -- but that tiebreaker was a big moment.

Q. Do you feel like you have the mental, physical and emotional stamina to play at this level and pay the price you pay for another three to five years, say?

PETE SAMPRAS: With some rest and good schedule I believe I can. There is no reason why I can't continue to work hard and even though it is an emotional grind, I do have some time off to regroup; get the batteries charged up again and, you know, prepare my schedule for the Majors and go from there. So I don't see there is no reason why I can't continue to play at this level and contend for major titles and continue to work hard.

End of FastScripts….