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Agassi was one of the few players who had a peaceful run through this tournament, which will be remembered as much for events off the court as on. The earthquake in Kobe was felt on the Flinders Park grounds by Naoko Sawamatsu, who lost her family home and didn't know for days if her best friend was safe but carried on to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Sanchez Vicario.
Then came the flood. Minutes after Agassi and Krickstein finished their semifinal, a torrential rainstorm struck. The Yarra River, which runs by the stadium, overflowed, and center court was under a foot of water within minutes. The power in the stadium went out, leaving Agassi huddled in nothing but a towel in a pitch-black locker room.
Sampras's woes extended beyond the harsh natural phenomena of these two weeks. Actually Sampras has had a terrible four months. In September his pal and golfing buddy Vitas Gerulaitas died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. In October, Gullikson suffered the first of the series of unexplained collapses that have plagued him. And shortly before leaving for Melbourne, Sampras's longtime girlfriend, Delaina Mulcahy, suffered a separated collarbone and sprained wrist in a car wreck at home in Tampa.
Sampras is a shy young man who left high school and home in Palos Verdes. Calif., to travel the tour at 16. He has said that he considers his lack of "good buddies" to be one cost of his tennis career. Gerulaitas and Gullikson thus represented rare confidants, and he took their absences hard. "Tim and my girlfriend and my family, they're the people closest to me," Sampras said after the final. "It's just been very tough."
Gullikson became ill shortly after warming Sampras up for his third-round match against Lars Jonsson of Sweden. Gullikson returned to the locker room, where, according to observers, he turned pale and his breathing became labored, his speech slurred and his vision blurred. Gullikson was immediately taken to a private emergency hospital. Sampras, aware that Gullikson had been hospitalized, was a model of equilibrium in a straight-set victory over Jonsson. Afterward he rushed to Gullikson's side, where he would spend much of the next few days. At one point Gullikson requested a worst-case scenario from a physician. According to Sampras, "The worst case was not good." On the day that Sampras met Courier, Gullikson, stable enough to fly, left for the U.S. for further tests. He checked into the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center (where doctors said that preliminary tests showed his condition was not life-threatening). It was thoughts of the worst-case scenario that Sampras carried onto the court against Courier.
Sampras's casual demeanor will never again be mistaken for lack of feeling. In the fifth set, sick at heart, suffering painful blisters on his feet and staggering with emotional and physical exhaustion, Sampras burst into tears and could not stop. Shoulders heaving, he hid his face in his sleeve, pretending to wipe away sweat, and buried his face in a towel during the changeovers. But he also served ace after ace. "I started thinking about Tim, and I just broke down," Sampras said.
Mulcahy was taking a soda break in the rotunda when she saw Sampras's face on a TV monitor. She rushed back into the arena, where a guard tried to stop her because play was in session. "You can't go back in yet," he said. "The-------I can't," she said, and ran to her seat next to Paul Annacone, Sampras's hitting partner and temporary coach. They studied Sampras, aghast. "He's about to fall to pieces," she said. There was no thought of urging him to win; they simply hoped he could finish. "Come on, sweetheart, hang in there, you're almost home," Mulcahy said.
On the other side of the court Courier could not tell that Sampras was crying, only that he seemed on the verge of collapse. Courier's voice rang out. "You all right, Pete?" he said. "We can come back and do this tomorrow." The remark brought Sampras back to the task at hand. He straightened up and served an ace. Sampras did not relent again as he went on to win 6-7 (4-7), 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3. Inadvertently Courier had helped Sampras. "When I heard him say that," Sampras said, "something clicked in my brain that said, Come on, you have to get yourself together and play."
Sampras could take solace in the fact that four American men had reached the semis. Three of them—Agassi, Sampras and Krickstein—had passed through Nick Bolletieri's academy in Bradenton, Fla., as did Courier; Pierce currently trains there. Courier joined Sampras in taking Gullikson to dinner. Agassi bore a sign on his bag that said, get well soon, gully. Their courtesy to each other was an indication that a measure of maturity had been achieved. "I think maybe we're adults," Courier observed. "Our car insurance rates have gone down."