After winning eight ATP titles in 1996, world no. 1 Pete Sampras was on a mission again in 1997, kicking off the season with crowns at the Australian Open, San Jose and Philadelphia. Outside the Miami semi-final, the results were not that good in the next three and a half months, as the American struggled to find the form on clay.
Waiting for the beloved Wimbledon, Pete showed his skills in the cathedral of tennis after facing the rivals from outside the top-35 in the semi-final and final. Sampras toppled Todd Woodbridge and Cedric Pioline to regain the crown he lost in 1996 and took a deserved month off before entering the Cincinnati Masters 1000 event.
In the previous two years, the American lost in the quarter-final and returned with high hopes that summer, chasing the first trophy since 1992 when he defeated Ivan Lendl. Carried by that Wimbledon success, Pete was the player to beat in Ohio, losing serve three times in five encounters and toppling four top-20 opponents to lift the ninth Masters 1000 trophy, the first since Indian Wells two and a half years ago!
Justin Gimelstob was his first and lowest-ranked opponent, and Sampras scored a 6-2, 6-4 victory to set the second-round clash against Patrick Rafter, whom he beat 7-6, 6-4 to reach the quarters. World no. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov stood no chance there, winning only 14 points on the return and suffering two breaks in each set to propel Pete into the semis where he toppled Albert Costa 6-3, 6-4 in 64 minutes for a place in the 63rd ATP final.
Sampras ousted Thomas Muster 6-3, 6-4 in 70 minutes for the 49th ATP title, playing well on both serve and return to cross the finish line in style and extend the winning streak. Muster battled through a favorable draw to set Sampras clash, defeating four rivals in three sets and moving into the 54th and penultimate ATP final, the tenth at the Masters 1000 level.
It was the ninth meeting between Pete and Thomas on the Tour and the eighth victory for the American, who hit over 30 winners and left the Austrian on around ten, with a similar number of forced and unforced errors.
In 1997, Pete Sampras won the second Cincinnati crown.
Sampras had the advantage in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, losing the upper hand in the opener before seizing it again and never looking back in set number two to emerge as a deserved champion.
The home favorite kicked off the match with a service winner and broke Muster after the Austrian's backhand error in the next game. Pete blasted an ace in game three to cement the lead before Muster pulled the break back at 2-4 after a backhand crosscourt winner, delivering only the fifth break of Pete Sampras' serve since the beginning of Wimbledon!
The American kept his focus and stole the rival's serve at love with a volley winner before sealing the opener with two winners at 30-30 in game nine for 6-3 in just over half an hour. The Austrian fended off a break chance in the second set's third game and stayed in touch until 3-3 when Pete broke at 15 following his opponent's backhand error, gaining the crucial lead and placing one hand on the trophy.
Sampras confirmed the break with three service winners that sent him 5-3 up and moved over the top with four winners in game ten for the second Cincinnati crown.