Thursday, October 25, 2007

1998 US Open SF: Rafter def. Sampras

Rafter def. Sampras: 6-7, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
Classic: No.
Rating: 82

The plot: Rafter won the 1997 US Open and came back to successfully defend his title in 1998. En route, he met Pete Sampras who was closing in on Roy Emerson's all-time grand slam record of 12 career men's singles slams. The match was highly anticipated, and Pete was the heavy favourite, even though he had lost to Rafter a month earlier at Cincinnati.

The match doesn't live up to its promise, but it is fairly entertaining at times. The first two sets are well played, even though Sampras is struggling with his 1st serve, getting only around 35% in. Sampras wins the first set in an exciting tie-breaker, Rafter takes the 2nd set with a single break. In the 3rd set Sampras sustains an injury (his thigh cramps up), which hinders his movement for the rest of the match. Rafter seems to lose his concentration when this happens and dumps the 3rd set. But from the 4th set on, Sampras can't keep up, and Rafter goes on a stretch of winning 35 of 42 points on his serve at a time. Serving at 3-5 in the final set, Sampras falls behind 0-40, and Rafter wins on his first match point with a passing shot down the line.

The bottom line: Had Sampras been able to fight through his injury, it could have been a classic. Instead, he fades away badly after the injury. There are many lovely serve-volley points from Rafter for the serve-volley enthusiast, and the first two sets are well played and exciting.

Bonus Info: In a pre-match interview, Sampras was asked what the difference between him and Rafter was, to which he famously answered: "About 10 grand slams".

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