Pete Sampras on Scoreboard – The Story of US Open 1990

Pistol Pete took the carburettor out of the Lendl Automobile in the quarters, thus denying Ivan the Machine ‘its’ ninth straight USO final run. The Czech had won three back-to-back titles in 1985-87, and lost five finals in 1982-84 and 1988-89. In 1990, the 30-year old warhorse had run into Pete Sampras, who had just celebrated his 19th birthday. The third seed Lendl had enjoyed an easy route to the last 8, whereas, Sampras, the 12th seed had taken out 6th seed Thomas Muster in the pre-quarter final. Meanwhile, World Number One Stefan Edberg had crashed out in the first set itself.

Some fantastic work at the net gave Pete the first set by 6-4 in the round of 8. Ivan broke the American to go up by 5-4 in the second, but the new lad possessing nerves of steel, and audacious ground strokes in his repertoire, broke back in the next game. The legendary baseliner found himself glued to the baseline, as the tall-but-nimble Pete finally took the second set in the tiebreaker through some extraordinary winners. Lendl played within himself, cut down on errors and took the next two sets. But Pete broke Ivan early in the fifth, and somehow managed to save his own skin throughout the set to ultimately prevail by 6-4/7-6/3-6/4-6/6-2 in 4h & 5min. Lendl won more points, and had 15 break points in 10 different games, but could convert only four of them. Pete’s serves and volleys proved too much for the Czempion in the end.

Thirty one and a half years old John McEnroe awaited Pete Sampras in the semi-final. The Unseeded four-times Champion had overcome Chesnokov, Emilio Sanchez and David Wheaton to enter the last four, and was a huge favourite with the crowds. Andre Agassi had already entered the final defeating the Number Two Boris Becker, and the Americans were assured of their first title since 1984 (since John had last won).

Pete understood the situation well and kept firing untouchable bombers for serves which McEnroe could not even properly brush. He hovered on the baseline more often, played his single-handed backhand passing shots with venomous accuracy and never delayed his volleys or overhead smashes, if occasions so demanded. The first set was won in a jiffy by 6-2.

John rose to the occasion thereafter and played some scintillating tennis. He dazzled his opponent and the crowd with deft touches, masterful drops, superlative energy and surprise of surprises, penetrating serves, even serving down aces at will. There was blockbuster entertainment, but in the end it was Pete who kept winning the crucial points. Ironman Pete soon broke him in the second set, Mc broke back and levelled, but it was never going to be enough.  Sampras broke back again and took the second set 6-4.

John came off slightly better in net exchanges. He almost matched Pete’s aces count. Age did slow his legs and reflexes, but the heart of the older man wanted more of this fight. He took the third set by 6-3. McEnroe even tried to whip the frenzy by arguing with the chair. But Sampras remained calm and composed. The power in his ground strokes, his extended reach and the youth proved to be more than enough, as he took the fourth set, and along with it the match.

The new American generation had well and truly arrived. John and Jimbo had been dethroned. Aaron Krickstein, David Wheaton and Brad Gilbert had not delivered as promised. Agassi and Sampras were to play the Youngest ever Grand Slam final at the Flushing Meadows, their combined ages being 39 years and 4 months (average of 19y8m). Chang had won the French Open in 1989 at 17y3m, and was seeded 11th at the US Open. The fourth seeded Agassi had played two semi-finals at the US Open in 1988 and 1989, and the final at Roland Garros in 1990. Jim Courier was the 14th seed, and later went onto win four out of the next nine Grand Slams.

The final proved to be an anti-climax. Pete Sampras proved too good for Andre Agassi, who seemed bogged down and could not play his natural game. Pete’s first serve percentage remained very high, and he bombed him with such accuracy that he ended up winning almost hundred percent points on them in first two sets. In fact, Andre, the one with the best returns in the game, could only win 6 points on return in the first set and 5 in the second. He could not even force a deuce on Pete’s serve in the first two sets. There were flashes of brilliance from Agassi, but he found himself overpowered, outplayed and consistently outclassed. Sampras’ serve, volleys and smashes were just too good, and ground strokes held too much power to move up from baseline. There was simply no chance. Under Joe Brandi’s tutelage, Pete was simply much too fitter and stronger, than ‘image-is-everything’ Andre.

Andre did get into the groove towards the very end, hitting some fabulous inside-out forehands, but could hardly dent the score-line or Pistol Pete’s calm. Sampras faced break points in first two service games of the third set, but somehow managed to save them. Sampras, all of 19 years and 28 days, won his first Grand Slam, beating Andre Agassi 6-4/6-3/6-2. This was second Slam final loss for Agassi in 1990. He would further get defeated in the French Open final 1991, before winning the Wimbledon in 1992. Pistol Pete had to wait for further two and a half years to win his next Grand Slam, which he did at the Wimbledon in 1993.


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