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Star-Spangled Day

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Roy Emerson chase started when a gangly, hard-serving teenager named Pete Sampras ruined Andre Agassi’s coronation at the 1990 U.S. Open, losing only nine games in a one-sided blowout.

The pursuit of Emerson ended in similar fashion Sunday when the 27-year-old Sampras spoiled Agassi’s return to No. 1 at Wimbledon, dropping only 12 games and serving 17 aces, leaving his opponent futilely waving at the air.

Same as it ever was.

By defeating the fourth-seeded Agassi, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, in the Wimbledon final, the top-seeded Sampras won his 12th Grand Slam singles title, tying the all-time leader and Australian legend Emerson. It was Sampras sixth Wimbledon title--more than anyone this century--and third consecutive championship.

“Well, that’s probably the best I’ve played in many years,” Sampras said. “It’s not easy to play well in a final like this. There’s a lot at stake and playing Andre is different from playing anyone else on a big occasion, on the Fourth of July.”

It was a renewal of their rivalry, their first meeting in a Grand Slam final since the 1995 U.S. Open. Sampras was so clinical, so convincing, he was finding it difficult to express his new place in tennis history.

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“I’m still spinning a little bit, to be honest with you,” he said. “I haven’t thought about it much, and just getting off the court, it’s a little overwhelming to have won what I’ve won. I don’t know how I do it.”

It’s obvious that Agassi is the great Sampras motivator, especially if you watched Sampras dive after balls, opening a bloody scrape on his right elbow.

Sampras’ Slam titles No. 1, No. 7 and No. 12 came at the expense of his greatest rival, Agassi. No wonder Agassi jokingly pretended to hit him with the runner-up plate when they crossed paths during the awards ceremony on Centre Court.

“I was going out there expecting him to be a big pain in the [butt],” Agassi said. “He knows how to play big in the biggest of situations.

“I feel like he’s done it a number of times. One of the things that makes him great is he does it even when he loses. When I played him in the Australian Open final [in 1995], I felt he was always on the verge of sprinting away with the match. I had to keep the reins on until I could find a window [to win].”

Sunday, Agassi was trying to worm his way through the window before Sampras slammed it shut. His best opportunity was when he had Sampras down, 0-40, on his serve in the seventh game of the first set. Sampras wiggled out of trouble and promptly broke Agassi the next game at 15 when Agassi netted a forehand.

From 3-3 in the first set, Sampras won five consecutive games to lead 6-3, 2-0 and Agassi never recovered. The final two points came on aces, including a second-serve ace down the middle at 110 mph on championship point.

“I had six different games when I was 30-30 and every time, if he didn’t hit an ace on the first serve, he was hitting his second serve at 109 [miles per hour], 111, sometimes 119, 122,” Agassi said. “You would think he hit one second serve the whole match that was 100 miles an hour. He’s taking chances out there and 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.”

Agassi, at 29, was attempting to become the first player to win the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year since Bjorn Borg did it in 1980. He will be ranked No. 1 when the latest ATP rankings are released today--a far cry from his low of No. 141 in late 1997--but that was of little consolation.

“Every time you’re on the court, you’ve got to prove you’re No. 1 and today on Centre Court at Wimbledon I was not No. 1,” Agassi said.

Sampras never faced a break point after the first set. At Wimbledon this year, he saved 13 of 18 break points in seven matches and lost only two sets, one to Mark Philippoussis in the quarterfinals and one to Tim Henman in the semifinals. Through the last seven years, Sampras is 46-1 at the All England Club, losing only to Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in the 1996 quarterfinals.

He also caught a major break when Philippoussis went out with a serious knee injury after winning the first set.

“To win any Slam [event], you need some good fortune and maybe that was a turning point for me,” Sampras said. “He was playing great. It’s really hard to say what would have happened in that match. You need breaks to win any Grand Slam in any sport and that maybe was the turning point I needed.”

One interested observer of the Sampras-Agassi final was U.S. Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson.

“It was a grass-court clinic,” said Gullikson, whose late brother Tim once coached Sampras. “Andre played a good final, but he couldn’t find a dent in Pete’s armor. He [Sampras] has a lot of different gears. He can step up his game to a couple of different levels.”

Afterward, Sampras said he was not thinking of Emerson or the upcoming Davis Cup match against Australia, preferring to enjoy the present.

“I’m sure once the U.S. Open comes around and people are talking about it, I’d love to do it and love to do it where it all started for me in 1990,” Sampras said of the record. “It’s not going to be easy. But I think how I feel right now, I just want to enjoy this.”

Agassi, the savior of men’s tennis in 1999, was peering into the future and saying all the right things to keep the rivalry going.

“I want another shot at him,” he said. “I want another shot at him this summer. I want another shot at him in the finals of the U.S. Open. So it’s interesting how he’s going to respond here. He hasn’t played that great all year and then he comes back to Wimbledon and wins it.

“How he responds from here will be a question. How I respond from here is also a question. We have work to do.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

1999 CHAMPIONS

MEN’S SINGLES

Pete Sampras

(United States)

WOMEN’S SINGLES

Lindsay Davenport

(United States)

MEN’S DOUBLES

Mahesh Bhupathi and

Leander Paes (India)

WOMEN’S DOUBLES

Lindsay Davenport

and Corina Morariu

(United States)

MIXED DOUBLES

Paes (India) and

Lisa Raymond

(United States)

MOST MAJOR TITLES

MEN

12 Pete Sampras

Roy Emerson

11 Bjorn Borg

Rod Laver

10 Bill Tilden

WOMEN

24 Margaret Court

22 Steffi Graf

19 Helen Wills Moody

18 Martina Navratilova

Chris Evert

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Men’s Box Score

Box score of No. 1-seeded Pete Sampras’ 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 victory over No. 4-seeded Andre Agassi for the men’s title:

*--*

Sampras Agassi Aces 17 5 Double Faults 5 6 1st Serve Percentage 60 43 Unforced Errors 51 54 Percent 1st Serve Points Won 88 74 Percent 2nd Serve Points Won 49 50 Winners (including service) 47 27 Service Break Points 3-9 0-4 Net Points Won 27-50 10-12 Total Points Won 106 85

*--*


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