ATP Finals Flashback: Boris Becker edges Pete Sampras after an epic battle

Boris Becker and Pete Sampras played one of the finest ATP Finals match in the 1996 final

by Jovica Ilic
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ATP Finals Flashback: Boris Becker edges Pete Sampras after an epic battle
© Clive Brunskill / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Over the last half a century, the ATP Finals event has offered some of the most incredible tennis duels. Almost nothing compares with the 1996 title clash in Hanover, with the home favorite Boris Becker battling his great rival Pete Sampras.

Two indoor giants produced a cracker, with the American prevailing 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(4) 6-7(11) 6-4, celebrating his third ATP Finals crown. They battled for four hours on the super fast indoor carpet court, and Pete delivered his tenth victory over Boris from 17 encounters, one of the most cherished ones.

Becker ousted Sampras in two tie breaks in the round-robin stage. They advanced into the semi-final, beat their rivals and set the title clash. The home favorite grabbed 12 points more but failed to emerge at the top following a costly break in the decider.

Pete and Boris played against five break points each, saving four and delivering two breaks in 55 games! Becker gave everything to fend off two set points in the fourth set's tie break, winning it 13-11 and extending the battle.

Pete Sampras and Boris Becker played one of the best matches ever in Hamburg 1996.

However, he got broken for the only time at 4-4 in the final set, ending his streak of 27 consecutive holds and pushing Sampras over the top.

Two great servers fired almost 130 unreturned serves and nearly 90 from the court, attacking from start to finish and keeping the points short and simple. Boris made a better start, stealing Pete's serve in the opener's fourth game and moving 3-1 in front.

The German served for the set in game nine and landed a backhand winner for 6-3 and a boost. Becker hit a double fault in the second set's fifth game, offering Sampras two break chances. The home star kept his composure, embracing four booming serve and getting out of jail.

The set went into a tie break, and Pete claimed it 7-5 with a backhand volley, leveling the overall score at 1-1. Sampras played against two break points at 2-3 in the third set, erasing them and staying on the positive side.

Those were the only chances for the returners ahead of another tie break. Pete clinched it 7-4, playing well and forging two sets to one advantage, keeping the pressure on Boris. The home star could have opened the fourth set with a break, generating two chances in the first game.

Sampras denied them, avoiding an early setback and serving well in the rest of the set. It went into the third tie break in a row, and Boris had to clinch it to stay alive. It turned out to be a cracker, with 24 points and all kinds of drama.

Becker erased match points at 5-6 and 8-9 before prevailing 13-11, forcing a decider and gaining a massive boost. They stayed neck and neck in the opening part of the set, with another tie break looking like a done deal. Instead, Sampras cracked a backhand down the line winner in the ninth game, securing a pivotal break and opening a 5-4 gap.

Pete held his nerves and produced a comfortable hold in game ten after a 24-shot exchange, emerging at the top and celebrating the title. The match marked the end of an era, with the ATP Finals moving to hard court from 1997.

Atp Finals Boris Becker Pete Sampras
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