Flashback US Open: Pete Sampras tops Andre Agassi in youngest Major final
During the late 80s, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were the leaders of the new generation of American tennis stars born between 1970 and 1972, becoming true successors of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who were slowly fading away from the big scene.
Andre was already a Major contender in his teenage years, reaching the semi-final at the US Open in 1988 and 1989, losing to Ivan Lendl both times, and the last four at Roland Garros in 1988 and the final in 1990. A few months later, Agassi advanced to his first US Open final, with Pete Sampras waiting in the title clash on September 9, in what has been the youngest Major final in the Open era, with the average age of 19 years and eight months!
Sampras made his debut on the Tour in 1988 at 16, finishing inside the top-100 but struggling a bit in 1989 before winning the first ATP title in Philadelphia in 1990. The youngster had played only eight tournaments before June and the grass season, where he won Manchester's title.
Pete played in five back-to-back weeks on hard court before the US Open, winning 11 matches and heading to New York as world no. 12. The Washington native was yet to make the breakthrough run at Major tournaments and was on the right course this time around, defeating Dan Goldie, Peter Lundgren, Jakob Hlasek and Thomas Muster after losing one set to reach the quarter-final with an eight-time US Open finalist Ivan Lendl.
The youngster had a chance to train with the great Czech a few years ago at Lendl's house at Greenwich, using every tip that a three-time US Open champion gave him to oust world no. 3 6-4, 7-6, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2 in four hours and five minutes en route to the semis!
Lendl won five points more (178-173) and had 15 break chances in ten different games, converting only four of those and wasting the opportunity for a more favorable result. On the other hand, Pete grabbed five breaks, and two of those came in the deciding set, sending him into the last four and offering a massive boost before the rest of the tournament.
The American had 61 service winners, using his booming serve to get free points or set the net's execution with volley winners. Lendl had the advantage from the baseline and managed to force backhand errors from the youngster in sets he won, although it wasn't enough in the end, failing to reach the semi-final in New York for the first time since 1981 when Pete was only ten!
The Czech had the advantage in the opening set but couldn't break Sampras' serve, paying the price in game ten when Pete stole the set 6-4 with a late break. Ivan served for the second set at 5-4, had four more break chances in game 11, but it wasn't to be for him, losing the set in the tie break and sending Pete two sets to love ahead.
At the US Open 1990, Pete Sampras became the youngest New York champion.
The more experienced rival was the better player in sets three and four before Pete bounced back from 4-0 down in the fourth, losing it but gaining momentum ahead of the deciding set where he won the last four games of the match to book the place in the semis.
There, Sampras took down another former Major champion and the American legend John McEnroe 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to advance into his first Major final. They had a similar number of service winners and Pete dominated from the baseline with his groundstrokes, creating 15 break chances and converting five for a rock-solid win, suffering just two breaks in the entire encounter.
Andre Agassi toppled Boris Becker in the other semi-final to set the dream title match with his compatriot, forging the rivalry for the next 12 years. In the title match, Sampras defeated Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 42 minutes to become the youngest ever US Open champion at 19 years and 28 days.
Also, Pete was the first American champion in New York since John McEnroe in 1984 (Lendl, Wilander, and Becker stole the glory in between) after the biggest drought for the American players at home Major following that dark period between 1956-1967 when the Australians had clear domination.
It was a fantastic display of powerful serving, superb volleys, and net coverage from Sampras, with groundstrokes that kept Agassi behind the baseline in most of the points. Pete had 30 service winners and was untouchable behind his first serve, suffering no breaks and taking 92% of the points when landing the first serve in, always keeping Agassi under massive pressure in his service games.
Andre failed to reach even deuce on return in the first two sets, winning just six points on the return in the first and five in the second set, having no answer for his younger rival's booming serves. Pete said he couldn't have played a better match even if he wanted, controlling the rallies and dictating the pace in the best manner.
Sampras opened the encounter more strongly, breaking in the third game when Agassi sent an easy forehand long. After problems in the first three service games, Andre found rhythm, taking the next two service games with no troubles but still standing no chance on the return, allowing Pete to finish the first set in the tenth game with four service winners.
In the second set, Agassi was on the verge of losing serve in game three, saving multiple break chances before bringing the game home for a 2-1. Still, he had no such luck in game five when Pete broke with an easy forehand volley at the net to move in front.
Another great return winner gave Sampras a break at 5-3 for a commanding two sets to love lead and a big step towards the finish line. The third set started with Agassi's break opportunity, who finally found the way to do something more on the return, denied by Pete after a beautiful backhand crosscourt winner that kept his serve intact.
Andre wasted another chance before Sampras served out for the game with yet another unreturned serve. Agassi could have moved ahead in the third game but Pete denied him with a good volley, breaking at love in game six after a backhand down the line winner.
A teenager confirmed the break with four winners in game seven to go 5-2 up, breaking Agassi once again a few minutes later when his rival netted an easy forehand to wrap up the triumph and enter the history books.