NEW YORK -- No. 1 Pete Sampras had only one goal two weeks ago -- to save his season by winning the U.S. Open.
For Sampras, tennis is nothing but big matches and Grand Slam titles, and without a Grand Slam title this year, he felt incomplete.
So last night, after watching three hours of football while waiting for the weather to clear, he went out on the Stadium Court and won Grand Slam title No. 8 with a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) victory over longtime rival Michael Chang, the No. 2 seed.
"My goal from Jan. 1 on is to win a major title," said Sampras. "This is my last chance to do it and I did it.
"I feel this is the most difficult Grand Slam I've ever won because of what I went through here. Over the last two weeks, I've played my share of great tennis and poor tennis and vomiting on court -- I guess that was kind of dramatic -- but I'm so happy. I was just so glad when Michael hit that last shot out and it was finally over. I just wanted it to be over."
If Sampras wasn't already a step above his contemporaries, yesterday's victory helped to put him there. His eight Grand Slam titles are fifth on the all-time list. His name is keeping company with Fred Perry, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Ken Rosewall. Only Roy Emerson, Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver and Bill Tilden are above him.
"It's strange," said Chang, "but when we were growing up playing juniors, Pete really didn't win a whole lot of tournaments. He always played a division or two up and, you know, the guys that were winning junior tournaments were like myself and [Jim] Courier. Pete was obviously talented, but really didn't make his mark until a couple of years on the tour."
Losing to Stefan Edberg here in 1992 made Sampras realize how important Grand Slams were to him and what it took to win.
"I was just kind of playing on instinct and was kind of in a zone when I won in 1990," Sampras said. "Then losing to Stefan, found out you need to play great tennis. You need a little bit of luck on your side and back then, it was kind of like a fantasy, the way I played, kind of a dream world.
"Now it takes a lot of hard work . . . and now that I've won a number of them over the past three or four years, the more I want to win them. The other titles are nice, but when it is all said and done, you look at your career, these matches are going to stand out. It is not the money. It is not the commercials. The titles, that is what I will be remembered for and I will think about that a lot."
He could have been gone in the second round here when Jiri Novak took him to five sets. And dehydration and on-court illness along with a tremendous performance by Alex Corretja nearly took him out in the quarterfinals.
Sampras said he doesn't believe in fate or destiny. "You just have to go out and play," he said. But one had to wonder when in the next breath he said his second-serve ace at 7-7 of the fifth-set tiebreaker against Corretja came from his late coach Tim Gullikson, who would have turned 45 yesterday.
"I just wanted that match to be over," he said. "I wanted to hit a wide side and it went a lot better than I thought. I think it came from the man upstairs, from Tim. I will never forget that shot and the reaction of the crowd was awesome. I could hear them chanting my name."
Yesterday, the crowd was rooting for Chang to make it at least four sets, and Chang was trying to comply.
"But matches can turn on a single point," said Chang, thinking of his set point at 6-5, 30-40 on Sampras' serve.
"I had my one set-point opportunity and I was a little unlucky when the ball clipped the tape there," he said. "I was getting back in the match and I think I had a pretty good chance of winning that point if it hadn't clipped the tape. From there, it could have been a whole new ballgame. Just a few points all night really just swung it his way."
The bottom line here is that Sampras keeps his No. 1 ranking and Chang will move up to No. 2.
"No disrespect to Pete," said Chang. "But what goes up must come down and I figure as long as I stay No. 2, I'm next in line."
Pub Date: 9/09/96