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A GRAND Occasion
S.L. Price
September 16, 2002
While Serena Williams blitzed the women's field, Pete Sampras won his fifth U.S. Open and left no doubt that he's the greatest men's player ever
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September 16, 2002

A Grand Occasion

While Serena Williams blitzed the women's field, Pete Sampras won his fifth U.S. Open and left no doubt that he's the greatest men's player ever

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Sampras followed the instructions to the letter. In the first 2� sets he played as well as a great player can, bombing in serves, attacking the net, even outhitting Agassi from the baseline. But fatigue and the ever-shifting wind wore Sampras down in the third, and Agassi, with the crowd screaming encouragement, began pounding the ball. He broke Sampras in the 12th game to take the set. In the fourth Sampras barely survived a bruising, seven-deuce service game to tie things 2-2, and he seemed completely back on his heels when, at 4-4, he unexpectedly unleashed an all-court flurry of strokes that broke Agassi. Now, suddenly, he was serving for the match. Now he was hitting that second-serve ace to make it 40-0. Agassi held off one match point, but at 40-15 Sampras served and volleyed like few players do anymore, cutting the classic figure at net as he smacked a backhand volley to finish the most amazing run of his career.

"Kind of an eerie feeling," he said later. "It all happened so quickly at the end."

Time moves like that when you're older, and when summer comes to a close. Sampras threw up his arms, then dropped a hand on his head in disbelief. He went to the net and hugged Agassi, and for the first time on a tennis court Sampras told him, "You're the best I ever played." Then Sampras tossed his racket aside and climbed the stairs to where his wife stood. He grabbed her and hugged her and whispered, "I love you. Thank you. You kept me together."

Sampras doesn't know if he'll be back at the Open again. He grinned as the cheers rolled down from the stands. Agassi stood blank-faced. Young in any world but this one, the two old men stood together, faces out of a decade past. Sooner than anyone hopes, they will be gone.

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