Published January 26, 1995 on THE AGE:
Old friends battle it out to the death
The Pete Sampras-Jim Courier quarter-final was among the best in recent Grand Slam history. This is an edited version of how American tennis writer Bud Collins saw the dramatic contest.
Across two days, those old pals Pete Sampras and Jim Courier hammered and slashed away at each other. Five sets, four hours, hundreds of brilliant shots, a million emotional tremors as they clung to each other like leeches.
When their Australian Open quarter-final was over at 1:09 am, having begun the night before, 15,000 yelled-and-eyeballed-out customers filling Flinders Park were almost as battle weary as Courier and the unlikable victor, Sampras.
Both men were cramping. Sampras had literally come through blood, sweat and tears, dealing with gashed blistered feet that thrice required a trainer’s attention, but mostly turmoil within.
It was a capital-E Epic that No. 1 Sampras, sobbing at times, nevertheless grittily tore away from Courier, the revitalized champion of 1992-93, 6-7 (4-7), 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
If being pushed behind two sets by the savage long-range firing of Courier wasn’t enough, Sampras also trailed, 2-4, in the fourth.
During this, the foremost revival of his career, immediately following the Sunday rebound from two sets down over Magnus Larsson, defending champion Sampras came close to falling apart psychologically.
“I thought he might be unable to go on,” his girlfriend, Delaina Mulcahy, said. Sitting in the first row, she kept calling: “Hang in, honey, hang in.”
Somehow he did. It was mental anguish over the illness of his coach, Tim Gullikson. Gullikson, who had suffered his third stroke within three months, flew home from Melbourne earlier in the day. Tournament director Paul McNamee announced: “Gullikson’s situation was the reason for Pete’s anguish, but he doesn’t want to talk about it to the press.”
This was obvious when he appeared at a post-match conference.
Sampras, barely controlling himself, answered a couple of questions, then abruptly departed.
“I didn’t quit,” he said, still teary. “It means a lot to me that Jim and I fought our hearts out and neither of us game an inch.”
At 1-1, 30-0, in the fifth set, someone in the heavily pro-Sampras crowed, yelled: “Win it for your coach, Pete!”
That triggered a gusher. Sensing the trouble, Courier showed the warmth that underlies their years as friends and rivals for the top. He shouted across the net, jocularly: “Are you all right, Pete? We can do this tomorrow, you know.”
It was tomorrow. But Sampras bucked up and launched the 21st and 22nd of his 25 aces to win the game. He would not be behind again.
“We both could have collapsed then,“ said the super-fit Courier. “We were cramping, the intensity took its toil, but we never let up. I knew by the second set this was something special in our lives. I can’t feel bad about losing like that.
“Pete looked bad, I feel bad … but it’s no surprise to me that he came back. That’s Pete. This is a major. We both wanted it so bad.”
Courier felt it probably got away from him when he double-faulted on his third game point in the eighth game of the fourth. “Cramps really grabbed me then,” he said.
Through his tears, Sampras rose to a fifth-set crescendo, losing but four points on serve. He hounded Courier for the decisive break to 5-3, even though Courier had five game points.
Amid wild cheering, after Courier missed a passing forehand bid at match pint, they embraced at the net.
“I know you’re dead, Pete,” Courier told his conqueror, “because I’m dead.”
(taken from the Boston Globe)