US Open 1990: Pete Sampras wins the title to rewrite history books


US Open 1990: Pete Sampras wins the title to rewrite history books
US Open 1990: Pete Sampras wins the title to rewrite history books

During the late 80's, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were the leaders of the new generation of American tennis stars who were born between 1970 and 1972, and they were true successors of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors who were slowly fading away from the big scene.

Andre was already a contender for the Grand Slam crowns in his teenage years, reaching the semi-final at the US Open in 1988 and 1989, losing to Ivan Lendl both times, and also the last four at Roland Garros in 1988 and the final in 1990.

A few months later Agassi advanced to his first US Open final and there was Pete Sampras waiting in the title clash on September 9, in what has been the youngest Grand Slam final in the Open era with the average age of 19 years and eight months! Sampras had made his debut on the Tour in 1988 at the age of 16, finishing the year inside the Top 100 but struggling a little bit in 1989 before winning his first ATP title in Philadelphia in 1990.

The youngster had played only eight tournaments before June and the grass season where he won the title in Manchester. Pete played in five back-to-back weeks on hard courts prior to the US Open, winning 11 matches and heading to New York as world number 12.

Pete was yet to make the breakthrough run at Major tournaments and he was on the right course this time around, defeating Dan Goldie, Peter Lundgren, Jakob Hlasek and Thomas Muster with just one set loss to set the quarter-final meeting with an eight-time US Open finalist Ivan Lendl.

The youngster had a chance to train with the great Czech a few years ago at Lendl's house at Greenwich and he used every tip that a three-time US Open win gave to him, ousting world number 3 6-4 7-6 3-6 4-6 6-2 in four hours and five minutes to reach the semis! Lendl won five points more (178-173) and he had 15 break points in 10 different games, converting only four of those.

On the other hand, Pete grabbed five breaks and two of those had come in the deciding set, sending him into the last four and giving him a huge boost before the rest of the tournament. The American had 61 service winners, using his booming serve to get free points or to set the execution at the net with volley winners.

Lendl had the advantage from the baseline and he had managed to force backhand errors from the youngsters in the sets he won but it wasn't enough in the end, failing to reach the semi-final in New York for the first time since 1981when Pete was only 10! The Czech had the advantage in the opening set but he couldn't break Sampras' serve, paying the price in game 10 when Pete stole the set 6-4 with a late break.

Ivan served for the second set at 5-4, he had four more break points in game 11 but it wasn't to be for him, losing the set in the tie break and sending Pete two sets to love ahead. The more experienced player was the better player in sets three and four but Pete managed to come back from 4-0 down in the fourth to gain the momentum before the deciding set where he won the last four games of the match to book the place in the semis.

There, he took down another former Grand Slam champion and the American legend John McEnroe 6-2 6-4 3-6 6-3 to advance into his first Grand Slam final. They had a similar number of service winners but Pete dominated from the baseline with his groundstrokes, creating 15 break chances and converting five for a rock solid win, suffering just two breaks in the entire match.

In the other semi-final, Andre Agassi toppled Boris Becker to set the dream final with his compatriot, forging the rivalry that will spread for 12 years. Sampras defeated his compatriot 6-4 6-3 6-2 in an hour and 42 minutes to become the youngest ever US Open champion at the age of 19 years and 28 days.

Also, Pete was the first American champion since John McEnroe in 1984 (Lendl, Wilander, and Becker stole the glory in between) and it was the biggest drought for the American player at home Major since that dark period between 1956-1967 when the Australians had a clean domination.

It was an amazing display of powerful serving, superb volleys, and net coverage from Sampras, with groundstrokes that kept Agassi behind the baseline in most of the points. Pete had 30 service winners and he won untouchable behind his first serve, never losing his serve and winning 92% of the points when landing the first serve in, always keeping Agassi under a huge pressure in his service games.

In the first two sets, Andre couldn't manage to make even deuce on return (he won just six points on the return in the first and five in the second set), having no answer for booming serves of his younger rival. Pete said he couldn't have played a better match even if he wanted, controlling points and dictating the pace in the best possible manner.

Sampras opened the match in a better fashion, breaking in the third game of the match when Agassi sent an easy forehand long. After problems in the first three service games, Andre found rhythm too, taking the next two service games with no troubles but simply with no chance to hurt Sampras on the return, allowing Pete to finish the first set in the 10th game with four service winners.

In the second set, Agassi was on a verge of losing serve in game three, saving multiple break points before he somehow managed to hold for a 2-1 lead. Still, he had no such luck in game five when Pete converted a break point with an easy forehand volley at the net to move in front.

Another great return winner gave Sampras another break in game nine for a commanding 2-0 sets to love lead. The third set started with a break point for Agassi who finally found the way to do something more on the return, but Pete saved it with a beautiful backhand crosscourt winner to keep his serve intact.

Andre wasted another break point before Sampras served out for the game with yet another unreturned serve. In the third game, Agassi threatened with another break point, only to be annulled with Pete's volley. As usual, after missing his chances there had to be a punishment, as Sampras broke at love in game six after Andre's mistakes and his backhand down the line winner.

Pete confirmed the break with four winners in game seven to go 5-2 up, and he broke Agassi again in game eight when his rival netted an easy forehand to wrap up the win and enter the history books. The youngest Grand Slam finals of the Open era:


ALSO READ: September 8, 1984: Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe prevail in epic semi-finals

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