Seeing stars, Sampras KO's Agassi in final U.S. OPEN


NEW YORK -- The Terminator was in the audience, but it was No. 2 Pete Sampras who was The Dominator on Stadium Court last night, overwhelming No. 1 Andre Agassi in the finals of the U.S. Open.

Sampras, who knew he had to be perfect to beat the Open's defending champion and his top rival, would not be distracted and won his third U.S. Open title, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

He served 25 aces.

He served a perfect four-ace game in the sixth game of a fourth set in which he lost just five total points. "It's like being a pitcher and striking out two guys in a row," he said. "You just get in a great groove. It's just everything clicks and you start to feel that you can toss it up there and hit the line every time."

He served one of those aces while realizing he was looking into the face of John F. Kennedy Jr. And he served a winner, when he noticed Arnold Schwarzenegger arriving and causing a disturbance in the crowd.

"I felt the electricity when we walked on the court," Sampras said. "But it was just me against him. You don't think about the crowd. You don't notice the television cameras. You could almost be alone you're in such a zone."

But he did realize Schwarzenegger was there. "How could I help it, everyone behind me was getting really excited and I was ready to serve and I looked over and there he was, 'The Terminator,' " Sampras said. "And then I hit a serve up the middle and I saw John F. Kennedy Jr. -- honest to God."

It seemed everyone wanted to be in the Stadium for the anticipated showdown between Agassi and Sampras. And the meaning of the outcome wasn't lost on the players.

"It meant beating Andre, the No. 1 player in the world," Sampras said. "And it means I have two Grand Slam titles this year [Wimbledon is the other]. People don't really remember the No. 1 ranking. It's the number of Slams players have won that is the important thing."

And Agassi, who saw his rise to No. 1 begin with winning the title here last year, said he would gladly give back the 26 straight hard-court matches he won this summer to have this one.

"I thought all those wins seemed too good to be true," he said. "And it turns out they were. When we get to Dec. 31, whatever the computer rankings say, Pete will feel a whole lot better than I do."

Early it appeared it might be a war, the kind of five-set heart-stopper everyone was dreaming of.

It started with Agassi and Sampras holding serve through their first nine games and then the two of them combined for at least the most memorable point of this Open and, if Sampras' interim coach Paul Anna cone can be believed, perhaps one of the best in tennis lore.

"You can not beat Andre Agassi by doing one thing," said Annacone, who was once ranked No. 11 in the world. "You have to do everything. It sounds easy, but there are very few human beings that can do that at the level Pete can.

"And that final point in the first set was one of the best points I've ever seen. It was two superstars coming up with point-ending shots I don't know how many times, using I don't know how many different shots, until ultimately, Pete came up with the one that did win the point.

"I just kind of sat there in awe, as many of the other spectators did, after that one."

The point came with Sampras having his second set point opportunity. It was a 22-shot rally that had fans gasping until Sampras hit a cross-court backhand on the line that Agassi could not reach.

"It stunk," said Agassi. "But I think that's what makes Pete such a great player. His explosiveness. He knows how to seize opportunities. Even though I ran him to 12 different corners on that point, he knew that point was going to have a big impact on his confidence and he worked hard for it and he got it."

It was perhaps even bigger than a set point. Because Agassi felt it. He felt his legs and in a match that very well could have gone five sets, he knew it was much too early to be feeling his legs.

"I think quite honestly, the whole summer has affected me," said Agassi.

It wasn't like last year, when he came in here unseeded after a bad summer and fed off the energy of every match.

"I never, in this whole tournament felt like I had my normal [energy] out there. I guess, when you play so many summer tournaments like I did, that is the price.

"I always believe in counting your blessings and I have a lot of them . . . but it hurts not to win the Open -- even to Pete, who executed his shots and held his serve really well."

NOTE: U.S. captain Tom Gullikson yesterday named Sampras and Agassi as the singles players in the Americans' Davis Cup semifinal against Sweden on Sept. 22-24 in Las Vegas. Todd Martin and Jonathan Stark will play doubles.

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