Sampras serves notice


FLUSHING MEADOW, N.Y. -- Under a gray sky, Andre Agassi's neon clothing didn't glimmer nearly so brightly. He was in the finals of the U.S. Open, the Grand Slam event he has deemed greater than Wimbledon, and he couldn't do anything about Pete Sampras, the 19-year-old heavyweight across the net.

"This was the first time I've ever wanted a tournament reallbadly, been focused and determined and couldn't do anything about it," Agassi said.

In an incredibly fast one hour and 42 minutes, Sampras won thU.S. Open, his first Grand Slam event, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. At 19 years, one month, he became the youngest male Open singles champion.

"This is unbelievable," said Sampras, holding tightly to his netrophy and a check for $350,000. "I can't believe I've won the U.S. Open, but I wasn't nervous at all. I don't know why."

It was the first time two Americans had met in the finals sinc1979, and the soldout crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium expected a marathon battle. Instead, it got Sampras, who broke Agassi for the first time in Game 3 of the first set, won that set in 39 minutes and was never broken throughout the match.

He served 13 aces and had 12 other service winners.

The main sponsor of this tournament was an automobilcompany that claims its cars can go from 0 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds. That's nothing. Sampras' serves go from 0 to 120 mph in 1.5 seconds.

But the numbers don't tell the story nearly as well as Agassi.

"It's disappointing not to win the U.S. Open," he said. "You alknow how I feel about the Open. But it's not like I lost it. I got my ass kicked and that's about it."

Sampras, a native of Potomac, Md., who moved to Rancho PaloVerdes, Calif., when he was 10 to perfect his tennis skills, controlled everything.

Agassi, one of the best returners in the game, had no chance -"You've got to get your racket on the ball before you can do anything with it," he said. "And when the guy is serving at 120 mph right on the lines, you don't get your racket on it."

While Agassi played the baseline, Sampras played serve anvolley. He approached the net 62 times and won 39 points; Agassi came in just three times, winning two.

"He has always had a big serve," said Agassi, who also lost thFrench Open final. "But in this match he had excellent placement. If he can play that kind of tennis all the time, he'll beat everybody -- like he did this week."

He came through the early rounds virtually unnoticed. Aftelosing in the first round at Wimbledon, no one expected history from the No. 12 seed.

But then he ousted No. 2 seed Ivan Lendl, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 4-66-2, in the quarterfinals. He --ed John McEnroe's comeback dream in the semis, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

And he showed up for yesterday's finals much the way BoriBecker had shown up at Wimbledon five years ago -- a kid with a booming serve.

While Becker, then 17, was winning his first Wimbledon title14-year-old Pete Sampras was busy changing his game.

Initially, he was a counter-puncher with a two-handed backhandanother Michael Chang.

"But then I had a coach, Pete Fisher, who wanted me to try one-handed backhand," he said. And at the same time, another coach showed him films of Rod Laver. And Sampras had found his ideal.

"I thought he could do it all," said Sampras, who hardly lacks foversatility himself. "Laver and [Ken] Rosewall. I love that era in tennis. A lot of people have forgotten it, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for it. The Australians were all class individuals who deported themselves beautifully on the court. I want to be like that."

Sampras showed his class off the court as well. Asked if he was upset that of the three Americans in the semifinals, only Agassi received a call from President Bush, Sampras smiled and said, "No, my phone was off the hook."

* After 44 straight wins and on the verge of winning the Grand Slam in doubles, Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova fell to Martina Navratilova and Gigi Fernandez, 6-2, 6-4. It was fitting that Navratilova was part of the conquering team. She and Pam Shriver formed the only doubles team to win the Grand Slam.

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