THEY WERE GOOD FRIENDS.
Sampras outlasts Becker at ATP
By Nesha Starcevic, Associated Press writer
HANOVER, Germany --
The din of the crowd shook the building. The shotmaking was dazzling, the aces blinding. By the time they were through with five sets, Pete Sampras and Boris Becker were down to heart and guts.
And Sampras, who has spent a career playing big matches, knew just how special this one was.
"This is one the best matches I have ever been a part of," he said yesterday after beating Becker 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (11-13), 6-4 to win the ATP Tour World Championship. "This is what the game is all about. It's not the money, it's not all that, it's the great matches."
Becker pelted 32 aces in the four-hour match but was unable to retain his title in this season-ending event.
"To be part of such a match is a highlight of my career," he said. "It was so incredibly close, we ran our guts out. At the end he was one shot better. At the end, I didn't really care who won."
In winning this tournament for the third time, Sampras indeed played like he was the No. 1 player in the world. He and Becker hugged at the net at the finish. When asked if he had ever played a more dramatic match, Sampras said, "I don't think so."
Before a roaring, wave-happy crowd of 15,000, Becker treated his home fans with four straight aces to start the match. He saved two match points in the fourth set and kept up the intensity until there was no more tennis to play.
"They were rooting for him, but they were not against me," Sampras said. "It was a great atmosphere and it raises the level of tennis and it's fun to be part of it."
Becker actually won 12 more points than Sampras, but he dropped his serve to fall 5-4 behind in the final set and Sampras served out the match.
"I tried my best, but it was not to be," Becker said during the victory ceremony. "I didn't lose it, you won it Pete."
Sampras avenged two straight losses to Becker in Germany, the last three days ago in a round-robin match of this $3.3 million tournament, which featured the world's top eight players.
In nine finals this year, Sampras lost only once -- to Becker in Stuttgart one month ago. This victory gave Sampras a tour-high eight titles this year, including the U.S. Open.
Sampras was playing his fourth final in seven appearances at the championship, which he won in 1991 and 1994. His career record against Becker is 10-7.
The outcome was a repeat of the 1994 championship, when Becker also beat Sampras in the round-robin stage, only to lose the final.
It was one the biggest paydays in tennis, with Sampras collecting $1.34 million and Becker earning $640,000.
Becker, ranked sixth in the world and the reigning Australian Open champion, was playing the eighth final of the year-end event. He won the 1988 Masters, and twice more (1992, 1995) after the event became called the World Championship and moved to Germany.
Becker broke Sampras in the fourth game, finishing the set with a backhand winner. The German faced two break points in the sixth game of the second set. Sampras put away a volley to win the tiebreak and let out a scream, clenching his fists.
It was Sampras turn to get into trouble next, again in the sixth game. But he fired aces on two break points.
In the second tiebreak, Becker came back from a 3-0 deficit, but double faulted to go down 5-4. A service winner and a backhand passing shot clinched the set for Sampras.
Sampras came within two points of winning the match at 5-4 in the fourth, but Becker hit a service winner, a volley and an ace.
The tiebreak produced a thriller. Sampras had two match points, but wasted both with long shots. Becker squandered four set points, then made the fifth when Sampras hit a forehand volley long.
Becker held during his first 27 service games, but he cracked in the 28th to go down 5-4 in the fifth set. He saved two break points, but Sampras finally converted the third with a backhand passing shot.
"I hit one of the best passing shots I've hit all week," Sampras said.
Serving for the match, Sampras wasted two more match points. Then Becker netted a backhand after a long baseline rally, and the title finally belonged to Sampras.