ATP Finals Flashback: Pete Sampras edges Boris Becker in one of the best matches ever
by JOVICA ILIC | VIEW 3334
On November 24, 1996, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker met in the title clash of the Atp Finals. Two great rivals turned it into one of the best matches in history in front of the packed Hanover crowd of 15,000. It was the 17th clash between two of the greatest indoor players, fighting like two gladiators for four hours.
After all kinds of drama and excitement, Sampras took down a great rival 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(4) 6-7(11) 6-4 to lift his third ATP Finals title, beating Becker for the tenth time and the fifth in indoor encounters. The German prevailed over the American 7-6, 7-6 in the round-robin clash and failed to repeat that in the final despite winning 12 points more than the American.
Both players saved four out of five break chances, with only two breaks in 55 service games. It's an incredible fact for such a long duel, showing how well they both served. Becker saved two match points in the fourth set tie break to prolong the clash before losing serve in the decider's ninth game after 27 consecutive holds.
It was the first and only break for Sampras, who held in game ten to steal the crown and break the German crowd's hearts. It was the finest four hours of attacking tennis you could imagine, with both players dominating with their serves and aggressive groundstrokes and volleys.
They had almost 130 service winners and nearly 90 from the field, firing from all cylinders and using every opportunity to impose their shots before the opponent. Becker drew first blood in the encounter's fourth game to open a 3-1 lead.
He claimed the opener with a fine hold in game nine after a backhand winner for 6-3. Sampras had the opportunity to steal the second set after two break chances at 3-2 thanks to Boris's double fault.
Pete Sampras and Boris Becker played one of the finest indoor matches ever in 1996.
The German stayed focused and fired four service winners to get out of trouble and stay on the scoreboard's positive side.
The American won the tie break 7-5 to level the overall score, placing a backhand volley to get himself back in contention. Sampras saved two break opportunities in the third set's sixth game, and those were the only chances for the returners in the entire set.
The younger player grabbed the tie break 7-4 and was now in a leading position, with no room for error for the German in the rest of the clash. Becker had a massive opportunity to open the fourth set with a break, wasting two break points in the first game.
Those were the only chances for the returners ahead of another tie break, a must-win one for Boris. It was an extended one, with 24 points in total. Becker saved two match points at 5-6 and 8-9 and clinched it 13-11 when Sampras missed a forehand volley, surviving and introducing a decider.
The crucial moment occurred in the ninth game. Sampras broke with a backhand down the line winner right after the return to take a pivotal 5-4 lead and serve for the crown. Pete delivered a rock-solid hold to secure the title when Boris missed a backhand after a 24-stroke rally, celebrating one of the proudest achievements of his illustrious career.
In some way, the match marked the end of an era, with the ATP Finals surface changing from carpet to a slower hard court in 1997.