Sunday, January 6, 2008

2001 US Open QF: Sampras def. Agassi

Sampras def. Agassi: 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6
Classic: Yes
Rating: 91

The Plot:
In 2001, Sampras was in the twilight of his career but was seeking one last major. He had not had a great year, but was playing up to former standards at the 2001 US Open. On the other side of the net was his old rival Agassi, who had succesfully stayed competitive at the top of the game by adopting a strict physical training regiment. The match went four sets without a single break of serve, with Sampras eventually edging out Agassi.

The match: The quality of tennis is very high from the beginning. Both men have break chances early in the 1st set, but neither can convert. The set goes to a tie-break, which Sampras appears to be winning when he has a 6-3 lead. He makes consecutive errors to let Agassi back in, and Agassi wins it 9-7. Then 2nd set is entirely without break points, and goes to a tie-break. Agassi makes some unforced errors to hand Sampras the breaker. The 3rd set is a similar story. In the 4th set, both men have break points again for the 1st time since the 1st set, in particular Agassi who has 30-40 in Sampras serve at 3-4. But once again the set is decided in a tie-break, which Sampras wins 7-5 when Agassi dumps a forehand in the net.

The bottom line: The match features a very high level of tennis and there is a very festive atmosphere around the court, as the who's who of New York have come out to watch these two champions play. However, the match is something of an acquired taste due to its unique storyline and the dominance of each player one serve. It is very much worthwhile watching this match to study the strategies of the two players: Agassi serves 80% to Sampras' backhand, and generally attacks that wing during rallies. Sampras serves about 50% to each wing of Agassi, but almost exclusively serves to Agassi's forehand (the weaker return) when he needs to win the point. Among Sampras v. Agassi matches this is no doubt one of the best, but it is a little short on spectacular points, winners and gets, and while both men execute their strategies to perfection, neither man finds a way to counter the other man's strategy on serve. That said, there is much joy to be found in this match.


David Mitchel said...

This match is also notable for showing what it takes to play serve-and-volley in the modern era of power baseline tennis: no less than a combination of Sampras's serve, athleticism, and hands. Pete's serving in the match is, of course, excellent; but what really impresses me, looking back, is his ability to cover Agassi's returns and passes, and to counter with so many effective touch volleys and half-volleys.

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