Her confidence is palpable. "She's more independent, and it shows in her tennis," says Heinz G�nthardt, her coach, who has helped Graf improve the topspin backhand passing shot that served her so well when the 6'2" Sukova rushed the net. After the tabloid roasting that Graf's father endured during a paternity imbroglio, after her dethroning as No. 1 by Seles, after the emotional turmoil of Hamburg (where Seles's assailant said he acted so Graf might return to No. 1), it is a welcome sight: a female tennis adolescent getting through to adulthood in more or less straight sets.
For better or worse, Graf's adoptive home made an impression on the men as well. "They drive fast, and no accidents!" said Medvedev, the Ukraine-based ethnic Russian who just turned 19. "I have not seen one accident in New York, and I was close 100 times."
Medvedev must have been talking about Manhattan, for accidents were commonplace in Queens, and he was one of the victims, losing to Ol' Whatsisname, Pioline of France. Stefan Edberg, Goran Ivanisevic and Richard Krajicek all lost on the grandstand court, which is widely considered slower than the stadium court and thus provided those big servers with an excuse of sorts. Becker lost to journeyman Magnus Larsson of Sweden. And Courier also fell to Pioline, who has never won a pro tournament and whose coach, a management consultant named Henri Dumont, had arranged to take off only the first week and had to be hustled back on the Concorde for the final. "I just play pwaant by pwaant," Pioline said after dispatching Courier 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. Ah, the indignity: Courier, the tour's original Francophile, hunted down and cuffed by Inspector Clouseau.
Courier might have fared better taking his practice-court gripes to Senator Pothole himself. New York's own Alfonse D'Amato, who was part of the usual celebrity tsunami at the National Tennis Center. (Also espied: Jack, Sophia, Wilt, Alec, Kirk and Tom 'n' Nic.) It's not clear whether Andre Agassi's cameo—19-year-old Thomas Enqvist of Sweden took him out in the first round—made him a participant or a celeb. But we know that if you are what you eat, Agassi is a doughnut, all glaze with nothing at the center. After losing, Agassi questioned the value of thinking through each point, something his new coach, Pancho Segura, desperately wants him to do. "He has so many outside distractions," said Sampras of Agassi. "Everywhere he goes he's mobbed. Maybe he causes that kind of aura. Maybe he likes it, I don't know."
From his appraisal of Agassi, one can tell what Sampras believes doesn't win Grand Slam titles. The Sampras who prevailed at Flushing Meadow three years ago was an innocent plunked down on a show court, a gangly kid with a hot serve who played in a daze over two weeks and wound up winning American tennis's greatest prize. He wasn't prepared for what followed. The sudden recognition he received clashed with his introverted nature. A series of lucrative exhibitions wore him out. Sergio Tacchini, the Italian sportswear firm, paid him $2 million a year to wear its clothes and shoes—but the shoes gave him shin-splints and had to be redesigned.
Enter Tim Gullikson, the former lunch-bucket pro who became Sampras's coach in January 1992. The following season they toured European clay-court tournaments to improve Sampras's forehand and teach him the very quality that Agassi resists: the patience to build a point through a rally. Sampras's forehand became more reliable without adding looping strokes and excessive topspin. It's a hard-breaking slider capable of abruptly ending a rally, but he won't unleash it prematurely. "If it takes five hours to win," Sampras says, "it takes five hours to win."
Gullikson didn't touch the serve, which carried Sampras to the Wimbledon championship in July and which he failed to hold only seven times in seven matches at this Open. Alexander Volkov, the Russian whom Sampras took out 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals, didn't have one break point. Sampras sucked most of the soul out of Pioline, and much of the suspense out of Sunday's final, by breaking him in the first game of each set and then cruising 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. "I was a Packer fan when they used to be great," says Gullikson, who's 42 and grew up in Wisconsin. "Pete's got a game like that, the kind everybody else has got to adjust to. Like the old Green Bay power sweep, you know it's coming. You just have to stop it."
Sampras refused to apologize either for the whatsisnames in his draw or for his noncontroversial manner. He, too, could have bitched about the food, having suffered from diarrhea before his loss in the final to Edberg a year ago. Instead, Sampras holed up in a hotel on Long Island, sending out for sandwiches from a deli. "I'm not very controversial, and controversy definitely sells tickets and causes ratings to go up," he says. "But I'm not going to change my style."
It is not merely his comportment that wins Sampras the admiration of the sport's whiskered champions, men like Segura, Tony Trabert and Fred Perry. It is the way he plays the game. He's a product of technique more than technology. He has used the same model of racket since he was 16. He follows his serve into the net, and he hits his backhand with one hand and his forehand with a classic Eastern grip. Even the Sampras habit of raising his arms, palms out, in acknowledgment of the crowd after he wins is a throwback, classically Greek in its way, perhaps an atavistic gesture from a guy with a dad named Soterios. It's not hard to imagine the laurel wreath on his head.
In many ways this Open of machines—the electronic TEL system that proved not ready to call the lines; the city pols who tentatively okayed a deal that would double the size of the National Tennis Center and accommodate a new, 23,500-seat stadium court by 1996; the usual planes and blimps and subway cars with their respective grates and hums and screeches—will be remembered for highlighting two very well-oiled and fine-tuned players. Yet while Sampras and Graf appear to be machines on the court, they are, in their own ways, blossoming into human beings off it. At this tournament that so celebrates euphemism, where the refreshment stands bill sandwiches as "breads and fillings," let's call this year's champions simply. Let's call them grown-up people.