Thanks Hatton. Last week I did an article on Jelena Jankovic, and recently articles on Monica Seles plus Amelie Mauresmo & Jana Novotna
I better paste the article here
Pete Sampras: An in Depth Look at His Game, Part Two
Last week we took a look at Pete Sampras’ technical game by breaking his game into core elements and analysing it.
Here’s a link to the article for reference http://bleacherreport.com/articles/3...is-game-part-1 .
This week I would like to take a look at how Sampras did against his biggest rivals from the 1990s and early 2000s. I will again use my YouTube clips for reference.
Sampras vs. Courier
This is one of many rivalries which Sampras had which started in the junior ranks. It's interesting to look back on Jim Courier’s reign as No. 1 in 1992, a player who made the most of his talent with hard work, Jim was compared to Ivan Lendl during this period—not least by Brad Gilbert in his look called “Winning Ugly”.
Jim used Lendl’s tactic of trying to dominate each match with his forehand and was extremely good on clay as a result. As far as I can see, there was one thing that Jim didn’t have, and that was natural athletic ability like Lendl had, so once Jim’s level started slipping at the young age of 23, he found it hard to get it back.
You could argue Sampras played a major part in that, because he frustrated Courier a lot in Grand Slam tournaments, Sampras was often in Courier’s way and that would frustrate anyone. Jim did beat Pete in the 1991 US Open quarterfinal and 1994 French quarterfinal but lost the 1995 Australian Open quarterfinal and 1996 French Open quarterfinal when he was two sets up in each match.
Jim often showed his frustration during their matches, but tended to take it out on officials instead, it happened in 1994 in Australia and Miami. As for the tennis, Sampras forehand could match Courier’s forehand, so that was already one problem for Courier. Also, Sampras was the better athlete, and was willing to play Courier at his own game, which was frustrate Courier with backhand after backhand, getting it as deep as he could, trying to get Jim to drop the ball short. Jim would run around the backhand a lot, but Sampras often held firm frustrating Courier.
Sampras also said in his book, A Champion's Mind , that he targeted Courier’s forehand when serving because of Courier’s extreme grip, returning fast sliding serves wasn’t his strength. So undoubtedly that frustrated Courier as well, his best weapon being neutralized like that. The rivalry ended 16–4 to Sampras.
Two clips from their rivalry:
Sampras vs. Rafter
A fascinating rivalry for me, because Rafter was a very tough and athletic player who fought to the end, but there were times when Sampras made mincemeat out of Rafter including an eight match winning streak which stretched from 1994 to 1998.
The most interesting aspect was that Sampras returned serve and passed Rafter better than anyone else Rafter faced in his career, and that includes Andre Agassi. The difference Rafter faced between Agassi and Sampras was that Sampras was the better mover across the baseline than Agassi and thus hit better when on the run, so consequently came up with incredible passing shots.
Rafter did give Sampras a lot of trouble with the kick serve, but often he played Sampras’ backhand into form because he focused so much on it. As I said earlier, Sampras played reverse psychology on Courier by going to his strength, but Rafter often went to Sampras’ perceived weakness and often payed the price.
Rafter did have a surprising three match win streak between 1998 and 1999 including Cincinnati and US Open semi final but Sampras won the last four meetings and the head to head finished 12–4 to Sampras.
Two clips here:
Sampras vs. Hewitt
Another interesting rivalry because of the age difference. And you can see the rivalry had two halves, because Sampras won 4 of the first 5 meetings but Hewitt won the last four meetings to make it 5-4 to Hewitt.
There’s no doubt Hewitt gave Sampras a lot of problems with his speed around the court and his good returning, getting it low to Sampras’ feet when Sampras came in. I think Sampras was right when he said that Hewitt liked the fast courts which helped his game and liked playing attackers. I also think that Hewitt caught Sampras at a good time for the 2001 US Open final when Sampras ran out of steam after beating Rafter, Agassi, and Safin back to back, the three former champions in a row.
Hewitt also took advantage of the fact that Sampras played more at the net in his “old age”. Had Sampras been a few years younger I have no doubt Sampras would have had too much game for Hewitt and would have turned things around like he did with Chang. Sampras didn’t play from the baseline like when he was younger with Courier and Chang, but in their meetings before Sampras’ decline, the Sampras forehand and movement would have been too much for Hewitt.
Sampras vs. Krajicek
Krajicek really gave Sampras a lot of trouble, Krajicek was a great player, if a little underrated due to the fact he had a lot of injuries and only won one Major title.
Krajicek was 6 ft 5 but was still able to win Super Nines (Masters 1000) tournaments in Stuttgart and Miami, plus clay tournaments in Barcelona and got to the final in Rome in 1996. Krajicek was an all round player with a good ground game and moved very well for a big guy.
Krajicek was able to get to Sampras’ backhand probably more than any other player, unlike an Agassi second serve which Sampras was able to get on top of, Krajicek put more slice on his serve more often and into the body, so the ball jumped at Sampras a lot as opposed to slow kickers which can sit up waiting to be punished, Krajieck had a deadly serve and good volleys.
At one point the head to head was 6-2 to Krajicek but Sampras won the last two meetings in Cincinnati in 1999 and the US Open in 2000, the tiebreak in the second set being one of Sampras’ most memorable moments in his long career.
Sampras vs. Becker
This was one of the best rivalries, two of the best players of the open era who both had an attacking game but liked to play from the baseline, consequently you got great matches which combined great serving, great returning, great passing shots, great rallies and great athleticism.
For sure, their rivalry is fondly remembered in Germany where so many of those matches took place. The 1996 Stuttgart final which Becker won in five sets and the 1996 ATP Masters final which was four hours long which Sampras won, is one of the all time great matches.
Their 1995 Wimbledon final is remarkable because Sampras hit over 20 passing shot winners and made less than 15 unforced errors the entire match—Sampras was unbeatable that day.
The rivalry finished 12-7 to Sampras, many of those matches taking place at the semi final and final stages of tournaments in Germany, Indianopolis, Wimbledon, and the Italian Open. Another thing to note is that there is only just over a three year age difference between them—just goes to show how Becker at 17 peaked so early in 1985, that probably won’t happen again in men's tennis.
Sampras vs. Edberg
This rivalry was very close, they both liked to attack, although at this stage, Sampras liked to stay back a lot and Edberg exploited that, especially in their 1992 US Open final.
It’s interesting that in 2000 and 2001, Sampras would decide to do to other players what Edberg did to him in 1992 and 1993, which is to chip and charge a lot and try to destabilise him. Sampras did have the 1992 US Open final in his hands but blew it when serving for the third set and got broken, and then seemed to lose heart for the rest of the match.
Sampras also described in his book that Edberg’s forehand was better than it looked, he called it an “odd shovelling motion”. Their matches were great to watch, Edberg didn’t rally as well as Becker but he had a great backhand and was a very smooth mover. Their rivalry ended 8-6 to Sampras but Edberg won the 1992 US Open final and 1993 Australian Open semi final.
Sampras vs. Ivanisevic
Sampras really sums this rivalry up better than anyone—they were a bad match up! That’s Sampras’ words, not mine. Two guys with big serves, this is what a lot of people remember about Wimbledon, which is unfair to both men, because Sampras played remarkable tennis in the 1995, 1999, and 2000 Wimbledon finals (against Rafter on almost one leg) and Ivanisevic played an amazing final in 2001 against Rafter, but the 1994 final in 30 degree heat (unusual for London, I know) and with the ball flying, that match was the beginning of the end for fast grass, they slowed things down from 1995 onwards but the differences were not really manifested until around 2002 when all of the 1990s attacking players were slowly retiring, leaving it to the baseline generation.
These two guys played each other 18 times with Sampras having a 12- 6 edge, but unfortunately none of their matches are memorable, other than the 1998 Wimbledon final which Sampras won in five sets, Sampras was so tense that Goran was able to make it a long match, but couldn’t take the initiative to win the title.
Sampras vs. Agassi
Sampras’ most famous rivalries, and now one of the most infamous rivalries. These two players produced some of the best tennis ever seen, especially on hardcourt between 1994 and 1995. The rivalry was renewed in 1999 but Sampras had a distinct edge despite Agassi’s resurgence winning four out of the five matches including the 1999 Wimbledon and ATP Championships finals.
Again, Sampras in his book reckons he’s the better mover and more athletic than Agassi, so felt he was able to compete in the baseline rallies and hold his own. Agassi played a bit different from Courier, Agassi liked to control the middle of the court, so Sampras’ job was always to try to get Agassi out of that comfort and into the corners of the court often,
Sampras also played great on the run so he had an edge there as well. Agassi gave Sampras trouble with the kick serve but not as much trouble as Krajicek because Sampras could always float the return back and if it was deep enough then he was in business.
Under Paul Annacone in the later years, Sampras moved away from the idea of running around the backhand to hit forehand returns, to either hitting the backhand return more or chipping and charging. Sampras also started hitting the second serve bigger and coming in much more often. So unlike Courier and Chang, Agassi saw different sides to Sampras because they both lasted longer on the tour.
They played on all surfaces at all the slams. Agassi won all the meetings at the French and Australia, Sampras at Wimbledon and the US Open. The matches in Australia were close and could have went either way. Sampras also beat Agassi on clay twice but Agassi never beat Sampras on grass. On hard court it was neck and neck. Their rivalry ended 20–14 to Sampras
For me, the thing I remember most is the rallies, these guys played amazing rallies in the course of their careers, especially between 1993 and 1995 when they were both coming up vying for top spot. Even though in 1999 Sampras won four out of their five meetings, the tennis was again of the highest quality.
Sampras vs. Henman
Probably a non rivalry, but Henman did make it to those two Wimbledon semi finals and took a set off Sampras each time, actually winning the first set in the 1999 Wimbledon semi final when Sampras was distinctly tense. Henman had the crowd on his side and gave a good account of himself but never looked he was going to win either match.
Henman made a strange comment last year in one of the British newspapers where he claimed Sampras didn’t return serve that well and you could always take him to tiebreaks. Well, Henman clearly wasn’t able to get to a tiebreak in two Wimbledon semifinals and in fact, Sampras always had the upper hand on Henman’s second serve.
Henman didn’t have much to hurt Sampras other than a few nice shots here and there, he didn’t serve big enough or get enough cheap points or aces, Henman was often under the cosh. The rivalry ended 6-1 to Sampras with Henman winning their last meeting in Cincinnati in 2000.
For me, one match sums up their rivalry, the 1998 Vienna quarterfinal. Sampras won the match 6-0 6-3 in 50 minutes, breaking Henman five times but Henman never saw a breakpoint, Sampras played amazing tennis, right in the zone, anyone who was there or who has seen it on Eurosport or on video knows what I mean.
A few clips from their rivalry:
Sampras vs. Chang
This is strangely familiar to a rivalry that would take place 10 years later—Federer vs. Hewitt. Sampras beat Chang in the juniors, then changed from his two handed backhand to one handed and Chang started beating him, this went on to the seniors, Chang winning their first six or seven meetings on the tour.
It all turned around in 1993 when Sampras beat Chang at the US Open quarterfinal. Chang won the first set tiebreak 7-0, Sampras won the second set tiebreak, then the third and fourth sets 6-1 6-1.
At one stage, Sampras won 10 games in a row, you have never seen Chang so absolutely dominated off the ground for an hour, Sampras ran Chang ragged all over the court with winners everywhere, it was breath taking tennis, in the course of that match, McEnroe said it was rare to see a serve and volleyer have such an all round game from the baseline as well. And after that match Illie Nastase made a famous quote where he said it was the best hardcourt tennis he’d witness at that stage.
I think Chang only won one more match after that and the rivalry ended 12–8 to Sampras including a comprehensive US Open final win in 1996.
To wrap up, other notable Sampras rivalries from that era include:
Ivan Lendl, Michael Stich, Marat Safin, Thomas Muster, Gustavo Kuerten, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Sergei Brugera and Mark Philippoussis.