Four years after their previous final, Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic were the last men standing in the title match at Wimbledon on July 4, 1998. Failing to deliver his best tennis on the biggest stages in the first half of that season, Pete threw everything on winning the fifth Wimbledon crown in the last six years and beat Goran 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in two hours and 52 minutes.
The American became the second player in the Open era with five Wimbledon crowns after Bjorn Borg. Also, it was his 11th Major, joining the legends like Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg and trailing only one behind Roy Emerson. Even more than Sampras, Ivanisevic struggled to find the form that year, dropping out from the top-10 in November 1997 and finding it hard to return into the elite group, especially not after the third Wimbledon final defeat that almost ruined his career completely!
Both players experienced early losses at Queen's and headed to Wimbledon, where they restored their magic on the fastest surface to oust six rivals and set the final heavyweight contest. Pete took down Dominik Hrbaty, Mikael Tillstrom, Thomas Enqvist, Sebastien Grosjean and Mark Philippoussis in straight sets, barely losing serve in those matches and setting the semi-final clash with the British hope Tim Henman.
The American prevailed 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 with five breaks of serve, booking a place in the final where things were not getting easier. Ranked outside the top-20 and with no ATP semi-finals since the title he won at home in Split in February, Goran opened Wimbledon's journey with a commanding triumph over Grant Stafford, dropped a set against him Andrei Medvedev and Daniel Vacek and still faced no top-70 rivals.
Todd Martin fell in four sets after Ivanisevic clinched both tie breaks to reach the quarters, where he ousted Jan Siemerink in three tie breaks. The semi-final clash with the 1996 winner Richard Krajicek proved to be one of the most thrilling semi-final clashes at Wimbledon ever, with Goran scraping past the Dutchman 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7, 15-13 in three hours and 22 minutes!
Two outstanding servers blasted almost 180 service winners and pushed each other to the limits in the decider that lasted only 80 minutes, with three breaks for Richard and five for Goran. The Croat had the opportunity to seal the deal in the tenth game of the fourth set, creating two match points before losing four points in a row and allowing Krajicek to take the set in the tie break and arrange an exciting decider that went down to the wire.
The Dutchman grabbed a break in game five, only to get broken at love a few minutes later to keep Goran in contention. They stayed neck and neck until the 28th game, when Richard made a couple of errors to suffer a break and propel Ivanisevic into the final.
There, the Croat did his best to match Sampras' performance and finally claim the first Wimbledon crown. He fought like a lion for four sets before fading from the court in the decider, leaving the court crushed and broken and wondering would he ever get another opportunity to play for the title at the All England Club.
Pete Sampras took down Goran Ivanisevic in five sets in the 1998 Wimbledon final.
Ivanisevic fired 82 service winners and faced 14 break points, giving serve away four times. On the other hand, Sampras repelled seven out of nine break chances, stealing that tight second set and saving the best for the decider, his first and only in the Major finals!
The American had 67 service winners and more volley winners than Ivanisevic, who ruined his chances after massive 20 double faults, way too much against such a strong rival and the four-time champion. Like in 1994, things went on quickly on the court, with 150 unreturned serves in 331 points and no rally longer than eight shots!
The Croat had to dig deep on serve already in the third game, fending off four break points with winners and bringing it home with two booming serves to avoid an early setback. In the next game, Pete hit a double fault to face a break point, repelled it with a powerful serve and delivered two more to level the score at 2-2.
Goran had another opportunity to move in front, wasting two break chances in the sixth game after two winners from the American before working hard to stay on the positive side of the scoreboard after four double faults at 4-4.
Goran saved a break opportunity with a good serve and repeated that two games later before claiming the tie break 7-2 with six winners! Pete started stronger at the beginning of the second set, breaking Goran in game two but staying in front only for a couple of minutes, as Ivanisevic pulled the break back thanks to a forehand winner.
The servers lost only seven points in the remaining games before the tie break that could have sent the Croat two sets to love up and closer to the finish line. There, they hit 16 winners in 20 points (13 with serve), and Pete saved two set points at 5-6 and 7-8 with good initial shots before prevailing 11-9 with a late mini-break in the 19th point when Goran hit a volley error that would cost him dearly.
Sampras moved in front with a break at 2-2 in set number three, welcoming three unforced errors from Ivanisevic and sealing the break with a return winner for a significant advantage. The defending champion lost only four points in service games in the entire set and closed it with three winners at 5-4, looking good to go all the way now.
With no room for errors, Goran erased a break point at 2-2 in the fourth set and fired four winners in the next game for the best performance on the return that pushed him ahead. The Croat served well in games seven and nine to claim the set 6-3 and send the encounter into a decider.
Sampras landed two winners on the return at 3-2, forced an error from Ivanisevic and confirmed the break with four winners in the next game. The American crossed the finish line with a break at love in game eight, lifting the trophy and writing new pages of history books.