ATP Finals 1991: Pete Sampras overpowers Jim Courier in all-American final


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ATP Finals 1991: Pete Sampras overpowers Jim Courier in all-American final

Andre Agassi won the first edition of the ATP Finals in the newly-formed ATP Tour in 1990 and he was back in Frankfurt a year later to fight for the title against Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Guy Forget, Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Karel Novacek and Michael Stich.

This was the 12th and last ATP Finals appearance for Ivan Lendl who scored three commanding round robin wins to advance into the semi-final just like in the previous 11 occasions, never leaving the tournament in the round robin stage.

Agassi reached the last eight as well but two other Americans had stolen the show that year, with Pete Sampras toppling Jim Courier in the title match to lift his first ATP Finals trophy. It was a very balanced season and Stefan Edberg and Guy Forget leading the standings with six ATP titles for each, although Jim Courier grabbed Indian Wells, Miami and Roland Garros for a prominent year as well.

Unlike in 1990, Pete Sampras was unable to win any Major crown but he went all the way here in Frankfurt to add another big crown to his tally, already owning the US Open and the Grand Slam Cup. World number 1 and the last year's finalist Stefan Edberg was forced to miss the tournament due to tendinitis in his knee that had bothered him already for a few weeks.

In Ilie Nastase Group, Ivan Lendl scored all three wins (he lost 15 games in six sets) and Jim Courier joined him in the semis after toppling Forget and Novacek, making a name for himself on his debut at the ATP Finals.

In John Newcombe Group, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Boris Becker have all scored two wins but it Pete and Andre moved into the semis to join Courier as three Americans in the last four for the first time since 1982! In their first match since the French Open final, Jim Courier dethroned Andre Agassi 6-3 7-5 and Pete Sampras became the second finalist after a commanding 6-2 6-3 win over the great Czech who barely escaped an embarrassing bagel in set number two before he won three games to at least soften the defeat.

In the first all-American ATP Finals title match since 1978, Pete Sampras defeated Jim Courier 3-6 7-6 6-3 6-4 in three hours and 10 minutes to wrap up the title and avenge the US Open quarter-final defeat to Jim in straight sets. This was their fifth meeting and the fourth win for Pete who lost serve four times (thrice in the opening set) from five opportunities he gave to Jim but making more damage on the return to secure the win in straight sets and conquer another big tournament at the age of 20.

Sampras hit 30 service winners and he had a clear advantage at the net, which was expected against the baseliner. Nonetheless, he also managed to overpower Courier in the backhand department and groundstrokes overall to earn the win fair and square despite hitting two double faults in the second set tie break that he had to win in order to avoid two sets to love deficit.

Pete had more than 60 winners and he owned the mid-range and longer rallies, finding the way to impose his shots and move Jim away from the comfort zone with deep and accurate groundstrokes and volleys. After four solid games on both sides, it was Courier who drew first blood in the fifth game when Sampras netted a volley to give his serve away but he pulled it back immediately with a volley winner to level the score at 3-3.

Jim grabbed another break in game seven with a forehand down the line winner and the set was in his hands after the third straight good return game, moving 6-3 ahead after 34 minutes and looking strong to beat Pete for the second time in a row at the big event.

Sampras had to change something and he started to serve much better in set number two, creating two break points in the fifth game that could have pushed him ahead for the first time. Courier repelled them with a service winner and a solid forehand attack that drew the error from Pete but he had to work even harder next time around, with three break points up for grabs for the younger player in game seven! Jim found the way to save them all and survive another tough service game but he had to give it away at 5-5 when Sampras finally moved ahead with a backhand cross court winner to get a chance to serve for the set in the next game.

Out of sudden, Courier broke back to stay in the set and set up a tie break where he trailed 5-1 before reducing the gap to 6-5. His efforts were in vain, though, netting an easy forehand in the 12th point to hand the set to his rival who had the momentum on his side now before the rest of the encounter.

Sampras lost just five points on serve in the third set and he placed a forehand cross court winner in the sixth game to steal Courier's serve and move 4-2 ahead. Serving for the set at 5-3, Pete fired two winners and the set was in his hands when Jim sent an easy forehand out, sending Sampras just a set away from the title.

Carried by this boost, Pete continued to serve well in the fourth set, dropping five points in five service games to face no break points, keeping the pressure on Courier who had no room for errors in his games. He was drifting further and further away from the finish line when he got broken in the opening game of the set after a poor volley at the net, with Pete hitting four winners in the following game to confirm the lead and make another big step towards the crown.

Courier avoided an even bigger disaster when he held after four deuces in game three and that was the last doubtful game for the servers, with both playing well behind the initial shot in the rest of the match. Serving for the title at 5-4, Pete delivered another great hold to wrap up the win after a service winner, becoming the youngest champion at the ATP Finals since John McEnroe in 1978. 1991 ATP Finals results:

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