Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi (Quarter-final, 2001)
6-7(7), 7-6(2), 7-6(2), 7-6(5)
Iconic American rivals Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras faced off 34 times during their ATP careers. Sampras generally held the upper hand with 20 wins overall and he also won four of the five grand slam finals they contested. The pair met four times at their home grand slam and, although three of those were in the final, the best of the bunch came when they clashed at the quarter final stage in 2001.
Agassi, the number two seed at the tournament, came into the match having won the previous three matches (all on hard-court) against his long running adversary. Sampras had slid down the rankings after his years of dominance and, having failed to win any of the first three grand slams of the year for the first time since 1992, was seeded number ten.
Has there ever been a tighter match? In the 52 games played neither man dropped serve with all four sets going to tie-breaks. With both men playing at their very best in a fervent atmosphere at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, the contrast between Agassi’s baseline game and Sampras’s serve-and-volley style made for some of the most scintillating tennis ever seen.
Both players brought their A-games from the start and despite each player earning break points, the first set went to a tie-break. Sampras held three set points after going 6-3 ahead but Agassi sensationally came back to win it 9-7. Incredibly the quality of play on serve meant there were no break points in the second or third sets and Sampras took both the subsequent tie-breaks to go 2-1 up.
Both men had opportunities to break in the fourth set but these were all thwarted leading to a fourth tie-break. In a microcosm of their entire rivalry, the great server narrowly edged out the great returner once more to seal the win.
The excellence of the match moved the usually stoical Sampras to comment that it was “probably about as good as it gets, playing the very best in a night match at the US Open” while Agassi asked “it came down to the wire – how much closer can you get?”
A year later the two would meet at a more familiar stage of the competition – the final – for their last ever meeting. Once again Sampras won in four sets in what turned out to be his last ever appearance, but despite the grander nature of that occasion it could not touch the 2001 encounter for sheer quality.
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