Sampras takes 3rd Ericsson title in thrilling finals
April 2, 2000
Pete Sampras allowed his Brazilian opponent Gustavo Kuerten to take only one game in the first set of their Final match-up for this important title. When he then broke half-way through the second set it looked as though the anticipation of the crowd for a long exciting match might be frustrated by a routine 3 set result from the American. But the plucky Brazilian, playing in his first hardcourt final, fought back ferociously to force a tie-break. Unintimidated by the Sampras serve, Kuerten won the breaker and levelled the match.
Sampras explained later: “At 5-4 in the second set I was debating whether I should change to a new racket. But I stuck with the old one, a couple of shots flew wide, then I double faulted and got broken. I should have served it out, but I let him in and from there on it was a dog-fight.”
In the third set the parallel play of the two men led to another tie-break. Battling aggressively at the net, Sampras took the first two mini-breaks and then, on the first set point, No. 3 was his.
Sampras looked set to take command now, but it seemed no-one had told the brave Brazilian that. His serve was still accurate and he continually threatened to break his opponent’s. But his best efforts only earned him another tie-break, in which Sampras raced to a hope-crushing 6-2 lead. Sensing the kill, the crowd set up a chant of ‘Come on Pete’, which seemed to rouse the American to even more brilliant tennis. But the Brazilian refused to buckle and fought back to 8-8. His resistance began to force Sampras into making errors, including a double fault. The noise from the crowd was deafening, as each faction urged their man on, but eventually, sheer class and experience told. A spectacular return from Sampras which somehow found the line seemed to unsettle Kuerten, whose next serve landed long. After nearly four closely-fought hours, Sampras succeeded in taking his first title of the year, with a score of 6-1, 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (10-8).
The final ace count for Sampras, who dominated with his serve for much of the match, was 20, with four of them in the same game. In another, the Brazilian was unable to get the ball in play. As Kuerten acknowledged later: “He has the greatest serve in the game.”
By his own admission, Sampras was feeling his nerves towards the end of the match.
“I was nearly choking there for a while. Made it pretty difficult for my friends and family watching at home – I tortured everybody. But the crowd response was huge – I got chills up my spine a number of times. I haven’t played a match this hard in many months.”
But as so often throughout his illustrious career, despite the fight put up by his opponent, Sampras was the worthy winner. His elation was obvious.
“This is a big win. Many of the players look on this event as the fifth major.”
Well, Pistol Pete is entitled to that opinion – he has won more of the other Slams than almost everyone.