Sunday, August 15, 1999

Luck, serve lift Sampras


Gets break to top Agassi

BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

sampras
Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi shake hands after Sampras' victory.
(AP photo)
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        MASON — Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi agree that it is just one or two points a match that separate them.

        The point that separated them Saturday was an Agassi backhand that bounced off the net cord and went wide. That gave Sampras an 8-7 lead in a first-set tiebreaker, which he won on the next point with a forehand volley winner.

        “To beat Andre, you need a little bit of fortune,” Sampras said. “From then on, I just kind of elevated my game.”

        The top-ranked and No.1-seeded Sampras defeated his long-time rival 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 in the semifinals of the Great American Insurance ATP Championship for his 21st consecutive victory — tying the second-longest streak of his career.

        He has not lost a set all week and today seeks his fourth title in a row and 60th of his career.

        Sampras is 16-10 against Agassi and has won all three of their meetings in 1999. They played two tiebreakers in Los Angeles two weeks ago, and their first set Saturday followed the same path.

        Agassi, ranked and seeded third, scored just three points on Sampras' first 30 serves — and two of those were on double faults. Meanwhile, Agassi was making few mistakes.

        The crowd was into it from the start. When Sampras got set for his first serve, Center Court at the ATP Tennis Center was hushed and attentive.

        The tennis was intense. Sampras and Agassi were in top form early. There were no break points. They waited for the other to blink.

        The biggest lead in the tiebreaker was 6-4 Sampras, but he dropped both set points.

        At 7-7, Sampras returned Agassi's serve and charged the net. The ball went off the net cord and slowly got to Agassi, who had time to see Sampras on the move and set up his shot.

        “I'm praying at that point,” Sampras said.

        Agassi ripped the ball away from Sampras for what looked like a winner. But it hit the top of the net and bounced out. Agassi covered his face with his hand.

        “There's still a lot of tennis to be played even if I make that shot,” Agassi said. “But I would've liked to have made it.”

        The second set was all Sampras.

        He broke Agassi's first two serves and found himself up 4-0. Every shot Sampras hit was working. Backhand winners. Forehand winners. Sampras even shook his head.

        “At that point, he wasn't doing a whole lot wrong,” Agassi said. “He was rolling with the momentum and certainly had the confidence going.”

        “Everything I was trying was going in,” Sampras said. “(At) a set and two breaks, you can just have some fun.”

        Agassi wasn't having much. And the crowd implored him to fight back.

        “You can do it, Andre.”

        “C'mon Andre, get your heart into this game.”

        Agassi knew he was fighting a losing battle.

        “It's difficult when you get down a set and a break against him,” Agassi said.

        Sampras and Agassi continue to bring out the best in each other, and they look forward to the next go around.

        Asked if he'd like to go right back to the court and play Sampras again, Agassi replied: “Tomorrow. I'd wait for a new day because today he was serving well.”

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