When Graf suddenly realized she could beat Seles—and win her third Grand Slam of the year—she was nearly frozen by nervousness. She wasted the second set 0-6, and the momentum appeared to belong to Seles. Graf herself figured it was time to lose. But as suddenly as it had dissolved, Graf herself took shape again, and Seles crumbled. Graf broke Seles in the fourth game of the third set, and that was enough. The question mark that hung over all six Grand Slam events Graf had won in Seles's absence was gone; Graf served out to win one of the great women's Hatches ever.
Off the court, however, life promises to be more difficult. "I have to think I will be tough enough," Graf says of the months ahead. "I know at some stage I'll be able to deal with everything, to look everyone in the face...and we'll just move on."
But not yet. For just as Graf was winding up her postmatch press conference, just as she was about to finish off two weeks of remarkable composure, one face in the packed room asked whether she would be able to see her father when she went home. "No," Graf said. She said she would talk to her lawyers. She was very calm. Someone asked if she would be able to talk to her father about her time in Flushing Meadow, about being stronger than she ever thought possible. "I don't think so," Graf said. "Doesn't seem like it."
Then, without warning, Graf crashed. Her face reddened, her hand flew to her eyes and she spun out of her chair. She ran out of the room and ducked into the only refuge available—a cinder-block bathroom where, amid a sink, two toilets, a mirror and four echoing walls, the 1995 U.S. Open champion took her father, her fear and her strangely cursed talent and tried to be alone.
For Pete Sampras this year has had its tears, too. In the quarterfinal match at the 1995 Australian Open, Sampras, sure that his coach Tim Gullikson would not live six more months, broke down sobbing on court. He won the match but, at 23, faced a year unlike any he had known. Gullikson, who had collapsed during the tournament and learned he had cancer, flew home. Sampras lost in the final to Agassi and found that people suddenly treated him differently. He couldn't believe what they were saying. "What pissed me off was everyone thinking, He's finally human. It took me crying on a tennis court for people to understand that I do give a crap and I do have a heart and I want to win," Sampras says. "I'm a human being. It's always been there."
Now, eight months later, Sampras is sitting on a training table icing his right knee. He has just waxed Byron Black in straight sets. He feels good. A man points a video camera at him, the light is on; this will be a birthday greeting for Tim, who is very much alive. The next day, Nike chairman Phil Knight will fly Tom Gullikson to Chicago to surprise his twin brother. Sampras won't be going. He has to dismantle Courier and Agassi en route to his seventh Grand Slam title.
"Timmy!" Sampras says to the camera. "Pistol here, just coming off the court—kicked a little ass. Wishing you a happy 44th birthday. Just hanging here with the boys, we're all thinking about you and praying for you. We'd love to get you back on the tour, but...uh, enjoy your birthday. I don't know when you're going to see this, but all the boys are going to be checking you out. We're all thinking about you. I hope I can win my third Open for you. See ya, Timmy. Happy Birthday."
Three days later, Sampras, who usually sleeps until 10 a.m., woke up at 7:30. It's today. This is it. This is the final. "To be part of walking on that court, it's a great feeling—it really is—to walk out with him," Sampras says. "It's different. Andre's game...I have a lot of respect for it. He stands on the baseline and looks at you and says, I have no respect for your save. He doesn't back up at all."
Just as he had the night before, Sampras phoned Gullikson in Wheaton, Ill. He talked with his traveling coach, Paul Annacone. He couldn't wait; he knew what was coming. Everyone hoped for a classic, but it turned out to be one-sided: For three of four sets, Sampras simply outclassed Agassi, made the world's No. 1 player seem solvable and weak. For the tournament he served up 142 aces and at times seemed to be competing against no one but himself. "The game of the future," Agassi calls it, and meanwhile, frustration gathers below: Becker and Agassi bickered over "respect," and Courier went toe-to-toe with Michael Chang and his brother, Carl, in a 20-minute locker room argument after Courier commented on Chang's "gamesmanship" in their quarterfinal. It all came off like so much hissing from the snake pit. Nobody likes the prospect of spending the next five years attacking a castle that can't be taken.
The only man who seems capable of mounting an assault is Agassi, and one incredible point in the final showed why. With Agassi serving at 5-4 in the first set—and Sampras trying to convert his second break-point opportunity—the two engaged in a breathtaking, net-cord-kissing, 22-stroke rally that for sheer power and athleticism surpassed anything seen in men's tennis for a very long time. That Sampras prevailed on a backhand, crosscourt winner was irrelevant. As he threw up his hands and tried to catch his breath, as the crowd rose for its only spontaneous standing ovation of the day, it was as if a lifetime's competition (Sampras leads their series 9-8) had been boiled to its essence. "The best point I ever played," Sampras says. Says Agassi, "That point really sucked."