Sampras stomps Agassi for sixth Wimbledon title
July 4, 1999
WIMBLEDON, England - Pete Sampras left skid marks and blood stains on Centre Court. He flew above the net for overheads, dived horizontally for volleys, and to hear an awestruck Andre Agassi tell it, "he walked on water" at Wimbledon on Sunday.
Even Sampras couldn't quite believe the way he came up with some shots in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 victory that brought him his sixth Wimbledon championship in seven years and tied him with Roy Emerson for the men's record of 12 Grand Slam titles.
"I couldn't have played any better," Sampras said. "In the beginning, in the middle of the second set, I was on fire. In all aspects of my game, from my serving to my groundstrokes, I was playing in a zone."
If ever a shot deserved to be saved on film in the Tennis Hall of Fame, it's the one Sampras produced early in the second set.
Agassi had sprinted to his left and come up with a running backhand crosscourt that would have passed virtually anyone else at the net where Sampras stood. It was one of those brutally hard shots that make such a noise, and come off the racket at such an angle, that fans start roaring before it even lands.
But suddenly there was Sampras, diving flat out, flicking a backhand drop volley that fell ever so gently on the other side of the net for a winner. He belly-whopped hard to the tattered turf, skidded a yard and tore up the huge scab he had on his right forearm from other dives the past two weeks.
Agassi stood on the baseline and stared in amazement. Sampras inspected his open wound, wiped himself off, and served two straight aces at nearly 130 mph to take a 3-1 lead.
"He played some impeccable tennis at the most important times," Agassi said.
As if that wasn't convincing enough, Sampras tried to do it again as he served for the match at 6-5 in the third set.
This time Agassi ripped a forehand crosscourt, a shot that came off his racket once more with a thud. Sampras was beaten, but he didn't know it, or refused to believe it. He hurled his body through the air again, parallel to the court, and just missed the ball as he skidded on the grass and tore up his arm a little more.
Sampras' response to that miss? He wiped off the blood and struck his 16th and 17th aces to end the match, the first at 127 mph, the next at 110 mph on a gutsy second serve at 40-30.
"It's so hard to explain the feeling that I felt serving for the match," Sampras said. "All of a sudden the match is on your racket, and you start breathing heavier. You start thinking, 'Wow, this is it, this is going to go either way. I could go from winning the title to playing a tiebreaker in the third set.
"I just kind of went for it, and I hit a great second serve. That's the one shot you need to have to win here. It was a great shot. I surprised myself. I went up the middle, and the next thing I knew I was holding the cup."
Sampras took control of the match with a rush of five straight games, from 3-3 in the first set to 2-0 in the second. It was, simply, Sampras at his best.
"That's how Pete plays," Agassi said. "You've got to weather his storm. And when you weather his storm, that's when he's vulnerable. But his storm was too strong today. I couldn't do it."
What amazed Agassi even more than the sight of Sampras flying through the air, was the way he dared to hit those second-serve aces at 110 to 120 mph. On this day, Sampras wasn't playing safe.
"He's taking chances out there," Agassi said. "People think he's walking on water until he starts missing a few of those. But he didn't. So he walked on water today."
Sampras moved beyond Bjorn Borg to become the winningest man at Wimbledon in the open era. He moved out of a tie with Borg and his longtime idol, Rod Laver, who each had 11 Grand Slam titles.
The $728,000 he collected for winning increased his career prize money to more than $37 million.
At 28 and planning to play into his early 30s, Sampras should have many chances to pass Emerson, who collected his major titles in the less competitive era just before open tennis started in 1968.
That prospect, and his place in history, were more than Sampras could think about in the moments after winning.
"I'm still spinning a little bit," he said. "It's going to take a couple of weeks to have it all sink in. It's a little overwhelming to have won what I've won. To be honest, I don't know how I do it, I really don't."
Despite losing, Agassi will take over the No. 1 spot from Sampras, but it was a hollow consolation. What meant more to Agassi was that he knows he's playing well enough to take a measure of revenge at the U.S. Open next month.
Agassi had sought to become the first player since Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon in succession. He's completed a career Grand Slam, something Sampras is missing because of his failures on the French clay.
But asked whether Sampras is the greatest player ever, Agassi didn't hesitate:
"Yes," he said. "He's accomplished more than anybody else has, in my opinion. No question about it. The guy's dominated the grass, and he's finished the year No. 1 six years in a row. His achievements speak for themselves.