WIMBLEDON, England -- Pete Sampras came as close to perfection on the tennis court yesterday in the Wimbledon men's championship as any human can hope.
"Just too good," said his opponent, Goran Ivanisevic, who was beaten, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5), 6-0, on Centre Court.
Ivanisevic didn't say it once. He said it nine times. But he was only repeating what Sampras, now a two-time Wimbledon champion, himself had said.
The match had ended and Sampras had tossed his racket into the crowd -- the beginning of what looked like a rummage sale, as each player unloaded two racquets and two shirts before leaving court.
He ran to the net to shake Ivanisevic's hand.
"Sorry," he said. "I played too good. I couldn't play any better."
"Oh, that's great," Ivanisevic replied.
Relating the moment, Ivanisevic rolled his eyes.
"My game plan was to serve good, hope he is going to miss some serves and that I am going to return some of his," Ivanisevic said. "It's not too much game plan. More just hoping. But my hopes, well, I was dreaming. He just kept coming up with great serves and great returns. What could I do? He was just too good."
The victory made Sampras the first back-to-back winner since Boris Becker in 1985-86 and the third American to win back-to-back tiles here, joining John McEnroe (1983-84) and Don Budge (1937-38).
It was the kind of match everyone expected: big serves, few rallies. The ball was in play for all of five minutes of the 49-minute first set.
The longest rally was six strokes.
Sampras faced just two break points, one in each of the first two sets, and saved them both.
He played like a great champion. At 22, he played like a man who can remain champion for a long time -- and he sounded as if he plans to.
"I think, to be a great champion, you need some talent, some hard work and discipline and the determination to keep on trying to get better," he said. "Sure, I'm No. 1, and I won last year and this year. But I want to win it again, so I've got that burning desire to keep on getting better. You need all those ingredients to be a champion."
On the talent side, he gave a serving exhibition. He did not produce as many aces as Ivanisevic, who won that battle, 25-17, but his serve was more reliableand relentlessness.
In the third set, Ivanisevic won three points off Sampras' serve.
nTC And when it was over, warm applause erupted around Centre Court from an audience that might have wanted more real action.
"I think I'm starting to win their hearts," Sampras said. "The main concern I have is to win and focus on winning. I hope people can appreciate how I go about tennis and how I play.
"I can't communicate with the crowd while I'm playing because I feel like I really can't do both and really focus on winning.
"You can write what you want and you can say what you want, but the fact is I have got two in a row and that's something that's going to stay with me for as long as we're all living."
It was Sampras' fifth career Grand Slam victory, and as he tried to calm down -- yes, he said, "I am excited; I am pumped" -- he revealed his own appreciation of Wimbledon history.
"I remember watching [John] Newcombe play a big German fellow [Wilhelm Bungert], and they didn't have a lot of long rallies," said Sampras. "I think it's just that everyone saw [Bjorn] Borg win here so many years that you go used to seeing long rallies.
"Now, you have Goran and myself, and the excitement is going to come in the tiebreakers, like it did today."
In their previous meetings, Ivanisevic had had the best of the tiebreakers, wining six of nine. But yesterday, Sampras had the winning touch.
In the first set, Sampras had three set points in Game 10, but Ivanisevic warded him off with four aces on the last five points.
But in the tiebreaker, Ivanisevic hit two long volleys to give Sampras a 5-2 edge, and he served it out.
In the second-set tiebreaker, Ivanisevic slipped on the grass and fell behind 6-5, and on the next point Sampras hit a low backhand that Ivanisevic could not lift over the net.
The victory is Sampras' eighth title this season and his second Grand Slam of the year, having won in Australia.
"Winning Grand Slams, that's what's important," he said. "Hopefully, that's proving to people and to myself that I can go down in the history books."
The only time he seemed riled yesterday was in Game 11 of the second set, when Ivanisevic served a ball Sampras saw as long, beyond the eye of Cyclops, the automatic service-line-calling machine.
He went to the chair umpire, stated his case and was told the call would not be overruled. A short debate followed, and then Sampras moved back on court with one final gibe.
"Let's discuss it over lunch or something sometime," Sampras said.
He won his next point and kissed the racket, but lost the game. On his next service game, he won at love, pumping his fists.
"The serve was clearly out," he said. "It was longer than the Cyclops by seven or eight inches. It is tough enough returning the serve, but I thought it was clearly out and I'm going to show some emotion, like anyone else would."
Ivanisevic never served another ace, as Sampras' game went to still another level.
"I told myself I could rally and come back," Ivanisevic said. "But down 7-6, 7-6, it is hard. You don't feel so great. You crack a little bit. And you think you will get better, but what is the point? He is all over me. It is a wasting of words."
Pete Sampras, Wimbledon's newest two-time champion, is just too good.
NOTES: No. 4 seeds Todd Woodbridge and Helena Sukova won their first Wimbledon mixed doubles title with a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over T. J. Middleton and Lori McNeil. . . . In the boys' singles finals, American Scott Humphries defeated Australian Mark Philippoussis, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-4.