The match, like most of this Open, was middling tennis but superb drama, and precisely what the sport needed. Years of bloodless excellence from the likes of Courier and Sampras and Stefan Edberg had helped cause declining interest among fans, criticism from the press and defensiveness in the tennis establishment, and that is a fatal combination. Agassi's rise and Sampras's fall—with the rivalry that could ensue—made the men interesting again. Then, at the last minute, the women got the idea too.
For just when it appeared that nothing, not even an ailing back, could keep Steffi Graf from her 16th Grand Slam singles title, here came the inexhaustible Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, bounding out of a huge first-set hole and pumping life into the women's game by outhitting and out-toughing her rival in the finest U.S. Open women's title match in a decade. A finalist at this year's Australian Open and winner of the French Open, the second-ranked Sánchez Vicario collected her second Grand Slam title of '94 and assaulted Graf's once impregnable spot at the top of the women's game. "Winning a Grand Slam final is a great feeling, but it's even better to beat the Number 1 player in the world," said Sánchez Vicario after her 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory. "Nobody can take away what I did."
True enough, especially when you consider what has been happening all around her. Graf's travails—she has suddenly lost at three straight Grand Slam events—are symptomatic of a tour struggling to find itself after losing Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati. Only Sánchez Vicario seems intent on paying the price to be great. Following two consecutive losses to Graf earlier this year, Sánchez Vicario decided to beef up her game and mind. So she hired sports psychologist Jim Loehr, who had worked with Gabriela Sabatini before her 1990 U.S. Open win, and trainer Pat Etcheberry, who works with Sampras. "They know what it takes to be a champion," Sánchez Vicario said. Twice a winner on the clay courts of Roland Garros, Sánchez Vicario knew she had to win a different major to break through.
"To be the best player in the world, to be Number 1, I knew I had to develop my game," she said. "I never felt, 'I've had enough; I want to stay the way I am because I'm winning anyway.' I always like to take risks to get better."
Obviously. Though Graf's back trouble clearly hindered her midway through the second set of Saturday's women's final, Sánchez Vicario earned the crown. She chipped and charged back into the match, volleying with authority. Happy? "I'm still in the air," she said. But guess where she wants to touch down? "Now that I win on hard courts," Sánchez Vicario says, "I know I can win on grass."
Such is the power of taking New York—if you can make it there...well, you know the rest. The first words Gilbert said when Agassi came off the court on Sunday were, "You're going to win the Australian Open." Who's going to argue? It is Gilbert, after all, whom Agassi credits with reviving his career, with giving him the ability to think through points for the first time. "He has spent his whole career winning matches he shouldn't have won," Agassi says of his new coach. "I've done the opposite: I've lost a lot of matches I shouldn't have lost."
That was always the most frustrating thing about Agassi. No one on the tour, not even Sampras, possesses more natural ability. Agassi's ground strokes are so quick and compact that he handles even the most difficult returns like a bandleader flicking his baton. That he was accused of tanking a Davis Cup match or buckled under pressure in two French Open finals or skipped Wimbledon was not the point; Agassi was wasting his talent. By last February even he knew it. He told Perry Rogers, his manager and childhood friend, "Time's going by, and I'm not even on the path of figuring out what I need to do."
The first step was to change coaches. Agassi had worked with Nick Bollettieri, Pancho Segura and Fritz Nau, but he had always been bothered by the fact that none of them had faced Sampras's serve or Courier's tenacity. Gilbert, though, had beaten Agassi in four of their eight meetings. Agassi asked him to dinner in Miami on the eve of the Lipton Championships in March, and Gilbert detailed Agassi's weaknesses: throwing away points, belting the ball without thought, playing a one-dimensional baseline game. Agassi knew after one conversation that he had found his man. Gilbert taught him that talent was only half the puzzle. Agassi had never realized that.
"I've always had a gift," Agassi says, "and my talent has gotten me through a lot of tough things. But I've never actually understood my responsibility to that talent, which is to go out there and be so focused on what I need to do, dedicate myself and understand what I need to do to make my talent come through."
Agassi's run at Flushing Meadow was astounding in its variety. He ran through all-court powers like Martin, Wayne Ferreira and Guy Forget, beat one of the best serve-and-volleyers in Stich, shook off the tough-minded baseliner Thomas Muster and, in his most impressive win, showed himself to be fitter and scrappier in the fifth set than the master of the marathon himself, Michael Chang. In the final Agassi mixed his serves to perfection, charged and volleyed with authority and deftly lobbed over the 6'4" Stich. "You know what's been the greatest?" Gilbert says. "To see him evolve over the last six months into being a great player, instead of just being a great hitter of the ball."