On this day 27 years ago, world no. 3 Pete Sampras experienced what he described as a "tough day at the office and the one to forget," at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. Namely, the 20-year-old managed to lose two matches in a single day despite having two sets to love in both, something you don't see or experience that often!
The temperature was above 30 degrees Celsius, with humidity reaching 70% to make the conditions very tough for a grueling session on slow clay, challenging enough for one best-of-five encounter. Instead of that, Sampras had to battle in two of those, spending many hours on the court and leaving Barcelona empty-handed despite an excellent opportunity to stay on the medal trail.
First, the American faced Andrei Cherkasov in the singles third round, losing 6-7(7), 1-6, 7-5, 6-0, 6-3 after three hours and 49 minutes of an epic fight, dropping 14 out of the last 17 games! Standing as the last American player in the draw, Pete claimed tight opening set and dominated in the second as well, controlling the pace and moving just a set away from the place in the quarter-final.
Sampras came back from a break down in the third set and served to send it to the tie break at 5-6, only to spray two forehand errors which handed the set to his rival who survived and extended his chances. With the momentum on his side, Cherkasov raced into a 4-0 lead in the fourth set and Sampras decided to throw it away and save some energy for the fifth, which didn't help him either.
Andrei, who played under the Unified Team flag after coming from the collapsed USSR, closed that set in style and was now the favorite to perform the complete turnaround and bring the match home in the decider. Pete hit a double fault on a break point in the eighth game, sending his rival 5-3 in front and finding himself on the losing side when Cherkasov held a few minutes later to enter the last eight.
Like this wasn't enough, the young American stepped on the court again after some rest, playing the second-round doubles match with Jim Courier (won just seven games against Marc Rosset in singles) against the Spaniards Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez.
It turned out to be another epic and the Americans wasted a colossal lead to hit the exit door, with Casal and Sanchez prevailing 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, recovering their game after the second set and playing better and better in the remaining three to reach the quarter-final where they lost to Boris Becker and Michael Stich in five sets.
"I got down, 3-0, 4-0, and I thought I might as well bag that set and get ready for the fifth. It's kind of hard when you're not exactly tanking but saving your energy for the fifth set, and that's what I did.
I've been in Europe for two months and was looking forward to this, but myself personally, I was looking more forward to the Grand Slams. This is a very big tournament, but it is just not in the same category as one of the Grand Slams.
It is more tailored for the Spaniards and that's O.K., it's their Olympics and they can do what they want. Maybe we can get something faster in Atlanta. I was looking forward to the Olympics and I wanted to walk out of Barcelona with a singles medal, but this was just a very tough tournament, with best-of-five singles and even best-of-five doubles, which is absurd.
Plus, I've been playing a lot this year and the Olympics came at a tough time in the schedule, when you want to get ready for the U.S. Open rather than being on clay courts here. So, it's disappointing, but life goes on," Sampras said.