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Sampras wins 6th Wimbledon title

July 4, 1999

WIMBLEDON, England -- Pete Sampras waved his racquet like Merlin's wand and, in one brash swoop, made Andre Agassi disappear, and made history twice over, in an all-American finale Sunday on Center Court at Wimbledon.

Contrary to Agassi's prediction that this revival of a long-dormant rivalry between the top two talents of this generation had the makings of a marathon, Sampras had other ideas.

Less than two hours after another Californian, Lindsay Davenport, won her first Wimbledon title and closed out the Wimbledon career of the seven-time champion Steffi Graf, Sampras completed an American sweep by humbling Agassi, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5. The last time two Americans took both Wimbledon singles titles was 1984, when John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova won.

Sampras, the two-time defending champion, passed Bjorn Borg, who won five Wimbledon titles, to become the only man in this century to accumulate six Wimbledon championships. And today's bravura outing earned Sampras his 12th Grand Slam singles crown, matching the Australian Roy Emerson's record.

Sampras, the 27-year-old classicist whose game on grass has evolved to a level that admits no peers, dominated on a gray afternoon when the men's and women's finals shared the sport's most storied court for the first time since weather forced a similar pileup in 1989.

Perfection was Sampras's goal and, according to the top-ranked Agassi, he attained it. Ruthlessly.

"He walked on water today," said the 29-year-old Agassi, the 1992 Wimbledon winner, who was coming off a rejuvenating victory at last month's French Open, where he completed his Grand Slam collection, becoming the fifth man in history to have won all four events.

Agassi had also hoped to become the first man since Borg in 1980 to collect the Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles in the same year.

Instead it was Sampras -- packing the same eviscerating punch as a human buzz saw, as Agassi saw it -- who did the record-breaking.

In addition to four titles at the United States Open, where he made his Grand Slam breakthrough in 1990 at age 19 to become its youngest champion, and two more at the Australian Open, in 1994 and 1997, Sampras has now compiled a perfect 6-for-6 record in finals at Wimbledon, the Grand Slam he was groomed to win by his first coach, Pete Fischer. He has won his six Wimbledon titles in seven years.

"Sometimes I feel like I was born to win here, I really do, and today was one of those days," said Sampras, 46-1 at Wimbledon in the last seven years. "In the middle of the second set, I was on fire, you know, from all aspects of my game. From serving to my ground strokes, I was playing in the zone."

"It was as well as I could play, plain and simple," said Sampras, who has turned the art of winning Wimbledon into a simple science. "It's all about my second serve and my return; that's it, that's grass-court tennis."

Sampras -- now ranked third despite his successful title defense -- broke Agassi's serve three times and tormented him with powerful second serves.

"Every time it was 30-30, if he didn't hit an ace on the first serve, he was hitting his second serve 109, 111, sometimes 119, 122," Agassi said. "I think he hit one second serve the whole match that was only 100 miles an hour."

Sampras, who switched to a one-handed backhand at Fischer's behest, the better to create a bolder, modern-day version of his stylistic role model, Rod Laver, continued to stake his claim to being remembered as the greatest player to grace the game in this or any generation. The French Open is the only missing link in his portfolio.

"I'm still spinning a little bit," said Sampras, who had not known what to expect when he took to Center Court against the player he had described as the hottest on the men's circuit. "I don't know how I do it, I really don't, to be honest with you.

"But this is the place to do it. I mean, against Andre on the Fourth of July was different than playing anyone else I've played through my career. Andre brings out the best in me; there's no question that he elevates my game to a level that's phenomenal."

The game that stood out as a turning point in the minds of both players was the seventh game of the opening set. Sampras was serving at 3-3 and, after falling into a 0-40 chasm, seemed in danger of handing the getaway keys to Agassi, one of the most feared front-runners in the game. But Sampras responded by pounding out a succession of service "bombs," said Agassi, which not only saved the game, but also rattled the Las Vegan's focus so badly that he immediately surrendered his next service game to trail by 3-5. Agassi's double fault gave Sampras the break point he needed to put himself in position to serve out the set.

"He's well aware of the fact that one or two huge efforts with a few big shots can turn a whole match around," Agassi said. "He knows he can make some great things happen in the matter of a minute and a half. He can turn an entire match around."

Sampras turned the opening set around right there, served it out and immediately hobbled Agassi in the first game of the second set by breaking him there. A 129-m.p.h. service winner gave Sampras a two-sets-to-none lead, and even though Agassi began to send returns across the net like comets in the third set, Sampras refused to lose his serve.

Instead, Agassi, after saving two break points at 15-40 in the seventh game but getting into the same trouble in the 11th game, plopped a backhand into the net to trail by 5-6 and enable Sampras to serve for the title. An ace took Sampras to match point. He completed his mission with his 17th and final ace.

"It's all instinct at that point," Sampras said. "I went for it, went up the middle, and the next thing I knew I was holding the cup."