ATP Finals Flashback: Pete Sampras edges Jim Courier and writes history

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ATP Finals Flashback: Pete Sampras edges Jim Courier and writes history

The defending champion Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Guy Forget, Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Karel Novacek and Michael Stich battled at the 1991 Masters Cup. It was the 12th and last appearance at this event for Ivan Lendl, who scored three commanding round-robin victories to advance into the semi-final like in the previous 11 occasions, never leaving the tournament before entering the last four!

Agassi reached the semis, but two other Americans were there to steal the show that year, with Pete Sampras toppling Jim Courier in the title match for his first Masters Cup trophy on November 17. It was a very balanced season, with Stefan Edberg and Guy Forget leading the standings with six ATP titles.

Jim Courier grabbed Indian Wells, Miami and Roland Garros for a prominent year. Unlike in 1990, Pete Sampras could not win a Major crown but went all the way in Frankfurt to add another notable title to his tally, already owning the US Open and Grand Slam Cup.

In Ilie Nastase Group, Ivan Lendl scored all three victories (losing 15 games in six sets), and Jim Courier joined him in the semis after toppling Forget and Novacek on his Masters Cup debut. In John Newcombe Group, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Boris Becker all scored two victories, with Pete and Andre moving into the semis to join Courier as three Americans in the last four for the first time since 1982!

In their first clash since the French Open final, Jim Courier dethroned Andre Agassi 6-3, 7-5, while Pete Sampras scored a commanding 6-2, 6-3 win over Lendl, who barely escaped an embarrassing bagel in set number two. In the first all-American Masters Cup title match since 1978, Pete Sampras defeated Jim Courier 3-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 in three hours and ten minutes to wrap up the trophy and avenge the US Open straight-sets quarter-final defeat.

It was their fifth meeting and the fourth triumph for Pete, who lost serve four times (thrice in the opening set) from five opportunities offered to Jim, making more damage on the return to secure the triumph and conquer another notable tournament at 20.

Sampras hit 30 service winners and had a clear advantage at the net, an expected scenario against a baseliner.

In 1991, Pete Sampras claimed first Masters Cup title after beating Jim Courier.

Sampras overpowered Courier in the backhand department and groundstrokes to earn the victory fair and square despite hitting two double faults in the second set tie break that he had to claim to avoid two sets to love deficit.

Pete had over 60 winners and owned the mid-range and longer rallies, finding a 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 in the opener, Courier drew first blood in the fifth game when Sampras netted a volley.

Pete pulled it back immediately with a volley winner to level the score at 3-3 and get back to the positive side. 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 successful return game, moving 6-3 ahead after 34 minutes.

Sampras had to change something quickly, and he started serving much better in set number two while creating two break chances in the fifth game that could have pushed him ahead. Courier repelled them with a service winner and a solid forehand attack that drew Sampras' error, having to work even harder next time around when the younger player had three break points up for grabs at 3-3!

Jim stayed composed and defended them to survive another tough challenge. Sampras finally grabbed a break at 5-5 with a backhand crosscourt winner and served for the set in the next game. Out of a sudden, Courier broke back to stay in contention and set up a tie break where he trailed 5-1 before reducing the gap to 6-5.

However, his efforts were in vain after netting an easy forehand in the 12th point to hand the set and momentum to his rival. Sampras lost just five points on serve in the third set and placed a forehand crosscourt 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 to move closer to the finish line. Carried by this boost, Sampras continued to serve well in set number four, dropping five points in five service games and facing no break chances to keep the pressure on Courier.

Jim was drifting further away from the finish line when he got broken in the opening game after a loose volley at the net, with Pete hitting four winners in the next one to confirm the advantage. Courier avoided an even bigger disaster when he held after four deuces at 0-2, the last troubled game for the serves, as they both played well behind the initial shot in the rest of the encounter.

Serving for the title at 5-4, Pete produced another comfortable hold to wrap up the victory and become the youngest Masters Cup champion since John McEnroe in 1978.