The 16-year-old made professional debut in Philadelphia in 1988, losing to Sammy Giammalva Jr. in straight sets before earning two top-40 victories a week later in Indian Wells. Using a favorable draw, Pete notched the first ATP semi-final in Schenectady in July that year, making a debut at the US Open and finishing just inside the top-100 for a positive start of his senior journey.
The young American couldn't make significant progress in 1989, struggling to find the rhythm despite entering the main draw at all four Majors, using that experience to make a full assault in 1990. The Washington native advanced into the fourth round in Melbourne at the beginning of the season, taking a set away from Ivan Lendl in the semi-final in Milan and retiring in the first round in Toronto.
Taking much-needed rest, Pete returned to action seven days later in Philadelphia, two years after making a professional debut there, beating five rivals to claim the first ATP title at the age of 18 on February 25. In the third round, Pete took down another promising American youngster Andre Agassi who had to retire after losing the second set due to food poisoning, sending Sampras into the quarters.
There, Pete toppled another top-10 player Tim Mayotte 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, setting the semi-final clash with world no. 122 Mark Kratzmann who prevailed against Jim Courier in the previous round. The Aussie fought well but the American was not to be denied, scoring a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 triumph to reach the first ATP final and become the youngest finalist of the US Pro Indoor.
Out of the top-10 seeds, only Andres Gomez managed to pass the quarter-final mark, setting the final clash against Pete that the youngster claimed 7-6, 7-5, 6-2 in two hours for the first ATP trophy in his hands. Working with Ivan Lendl, the upcoming star learned a lot from the greatest player of the previous decade, playing on a high level in the crucial moments and sealing the deal with a rock-solid performance in the third set.
There were no breaks in the opener and it was Sampras who held more comfortably, taking the tie break 7-4 after scoring two late mini-breaks on Gomez's second serve. They stayed neck and neck in the first ten games of the second set as well and the Ecuadorian was the first to crack under pressure, hitting a double fault in the 11th game and allowing Sampras to lock the set with a hold at love and take two sets to love advantage.
The American was the only player on the court in set number three, delivering breaks in games one and seven and sealing the deal with a beautiful volley at 5-2 that carried him over the top.