On November 24, 1996, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker met in the final of the Masters Cup, turning it into one of the best matches ever in front of the packed Hanover crowd of 15000. It was the 17th clash between two of the greatest indoor players in the game's history, fighting like two gladiators for four hours.
After all kinds of drama and excitement, Pete Sampras took down a great rival 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(4) 6-7(11) 6-4 to lift his third Masters Cup, beating Becker for the tenth time and for the fifth time in indoor encounters. The German prevailed over the American 7-6, 7-6 in the round-robin clash, failing to repeat that in the final despite winning 12 points more than Sampras.
Both players saved four out of five break chances, and we saw just two breaks in 55 service games, an incredible fact for such a long duel, which shows how well they both served. Becker saved two match points in the fourth set tie break to prolong the clash before losing serve in the decider's ninth game after 27 consecutive holds.
It was the first and only break for Sampras, who held in game ten to steal the crown and break the German crowd's hearts. It was the finest four hours of attacking tennis you could imagine, with both players dominating with their serves and aggressive groundstrokes and volleys.
They had almost 130 service winners and nearly 90 from the field, firing from all cylinders and using every opportunity to impose their shots before the opponent. Becker drew first blood in the fourth game to open a 3-1 lead, claiming the opener with a fine hold in game nine for 6-3 after a backhand winner.
Sampras had the opportunity to steal the second set after two break chances at 3-2 thanks to Boris's double fault.
In 1996, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker played one of the finest indoor matches ever.
The German stayed focused and fired four service winners to get out of trouble and stay on the scoreboard's positive side.
The American won the tie break 7-5 to level the overall score, placing a backhand volley to get himself back in contention. Sampras saved two break opportunities in the third set's sixth game, and those were the only chances for the returners in the entire set that went into a tie break.
The younger player grabbed it 7-4 and was now in a leading position, with no room for error for the German in the rest of the clash. Becker had a massive opportunity to open the fourth set with a break, wasting two break points in the first game before 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, with Becker saving two match points at 5-6 and 8-9 to clinch it 13-11 when Sampras missed a forehand volley. The crucial moment occurred in the decider's ninth 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.
The American delivered a rock-solid hold, securing the title when Becker missed a backhand after a 24-stroke rally and celebrating one of the proudest achievements of his illustrious career. In some way, the match marked the end of an era, with the Masters Cup surface changing from carpet to a slower hard court in 1997.