Sampras, Agassi still among the best playersPosted: Sunday September 08, 2002 12:09 PM
Updated: Sunday September 08, 2002 10:07 PM
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Their careers have been intertwined ever since they were adolescents but Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi waged their latest war as two battle-scarred warriors.
When Sampras and Agassi stepped on court for Sunday's final, it marked the first time that two players past their 30th birthday had met for the U.S. Open title since the beginning of the Open era, in 1968.
It was at Flushing Meadows 12 years ago that the two Americans engaged in their first memorable duel when a 19-year-old Sampras stunned Agassi, a year his senior, to become the youngest Open champion.
Since then, Sampras and Agassi have gone on different career paths, with Sampras never losing his focus as he went on to achieve Grand Slam glory 12 more times and have a stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking for six years.
Five years ago, Agassi seemed on the verge of tennis burnout before embarking on a strict regime that has turned a 27-year-old with a paunch into a 32-year-old physical specimen.
Ironically, it was Sampras whose focus on tennis was questioned entering the Open at age 31.
In the midst of his most dismal campaign and having not won a title in 33 events overall, Sampras has shown he still has at least one great run in him, feeding off the New York crowd with some vintage "Pistol Pete" performances.
By winning the U.S. Open again, Sampras silenced those who said he no longer had what it took to contend for a major.
"I haven't shown much this year, little bit frustrating," Sampras said.
"You still just have to remember my ability; I never question that.
"Even though it's been a struggle and I've lost confidence through the year, at certain times I never questioned that I could be back."
Agassi arrived in New York looking to turn around what had been a disappointing Grand Slam stretch this year.
He missed the Australian Open with a wrist injury, then lost in the French Open quarterfinals before tumbling out of Wimbledon in the second round.
Agassi marched through the first four rounds before struggling with Max Mirnyi in the quarters.
But against world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the semifinals, Agassi ignited the New York crowd with brilliant shot-making that even the fleet-footed Hewitt could not catch up to.
"I'm always trying to make little adjustments in my game that can keep my game where it needs to be to compete for the titles at these tournaments," Agassi said.
"I'm not surprised that I'm playing well. I think you always go out there and feel good when you pull off wins like I have over the last two weeks."
It was the second straight year that Sampras and Agassi were on opposite sides of the court inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Last year, they battled through four straight sets with no breaks of serve in their quarterfinal showdown, with Sampras taking three of them to eliminate Agassi.
Sampras and Agassi also met here in the 1995 final, with Sampras prevailing in four sets.
Overall, Sampras leads Agassi, 20-14, including 4-1 in grand slam finals.
"I can definitely say that there's been nothing like it in my career that compares to playing against Pete," Agassi said.
"Pete, in my opinion, is the best that I have ever played against. That forces you to get that rush of blood that makes you do a little something special."
"He brings out the best in me," Sampras agreed.
There's no question that Sampras and Agassi are in the twilight of their careers.
But one thing's for sure -- whether it's their last
meeting in a U.S. Open, let alone any Grand Slam, it was a memorable match.
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