November 24, 1996: Sampras edges Becker in one of the greatest matches ever


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November 24, 1996: Sampras edges Becker in one of the greatest matches ever

On November 24, 1996, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker met in the final of the Masters Cup, and it turned out to be one of the best matches ever in front of the packed Hamburg crowd of 15000. This was the 17th clash between two of the greatest indoor players in the history of the game, and it could not have been better, fighting like two gladiators for 4 hours.

After all kind of drama and excitement, Pete Sampras took down his great rival by 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(4) 6-7(11) 6-4 to lift his 3rd Masters Cup, beating Becker for the 10th time and for the 5th time when they played an indoor match. In the round robin, Becker edged the American by 7-6 7-6 but he failed to repeat that in the final, despite the fact he won 12 points more than Pete.

Both players saved 4 out of 5 break points and we saw just 2 breaks of serve in 55 service games, which is incredible for such a long duel, and it just shows how well they both served. Becker saved 2 match points in the 4th set tie break to prolong the match but he lost his serve in the 9th game of the decider after 27 consecutive holds (the first and only break that Sampras scored) to end on the losing side and break hearts of his partisan crowd.

It was the finest 4 hours of attacking tennis that you could imagine, with both players dominating with their serves and aggressive groundstrokes and volleys. They had almost 130 service winners and almost 90 from the field as well, firing from all cylinders and using every opportunity to impose their shots before the opponent.

Becker drew first blood in the 4th game when he broke for a 3-1 lead, and he claimed the opener by 6-3 with a good hold in game 9, firing a backhand winner to move in front. Sampras had a chance to steal the second set, with 2 break points in the 6th game after a double fault from Boris, but German stayed focused, firing 4 service winners to get out of trouble and stay on the positive side of the scoreboard.

American won the tie break by 7-5 to level the overall score, placing a backhand volley to get himself back in contention. Sampras saved 2 break points in the 6th game of the third set and those were the only chances for the returners in the entire set, and it went into a tie break.

Younger player grabbed it by 7-4 and he was now in the leading position, with no room for error for the German in the rest of the match. Becker had a huge opportunity to open the 4th set with a break, wasting 2 break points in the 1st game, and they both served well to bring another tie break, a must-win one for Boris.

It was an extended one, with 24 points in total, Becker saved 2 match points at 5-6 and 8-9 and he wrapped it up by 13-11 when Sampras missed a forehand volley in that final point to send the match into a decider. The crucial moment occurred in the 9th game when Sampras broke with a backhand down the line winner right after the return to take a pivotal 5-4 lead and serve for the victory.

He delivered a nice hold, clinching the title when Becker missed a backhand after a 24-stroke rally, celebrating one of his biggest wins ever in what has been one of the longest matches of his illustrious career. In some way, this was also the end of an era, since the surface of the Masters Cup has been changed from carpet to a slower hard court in 1997, as both the organizers and the players agreed that this 1996 edition was just too fast.

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