This one was for Tim Gullikson, a clinical masterpiece that shot Pete Sampras back up to the pedestal he occupied six months ago.
Three straight titles at Wimbledon.
Big Bill Tilden never did it. Nor did Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, John McEnroe or Boris Becker, the badly outgunned gentleman Sampras defeated 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 Sunday.
“It’s kind of a blur right now,” Sampras said of his rare, rich feat, which he dedicated to his ailing coach. “I haven’t been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been drinking a lot of water because I have to do a drug test later.”
The only thing Sampras was high on was tennis and the special present he had for Gullikson, who was home in Wheaton, Ill., where he has been undergoing chemotherapy for a brain tumor the past three months.
Almost immediately after coming off the court, Sampras called Gullikson to share the joy.
“I’ll go home to Tampa tomorrow and take some time off, put the racket up and really reflect on what I just did,” he said. “But right now, it’s going so fast it’s pretty tough to appreciate.”
So dominant was Sampras that Becker never got a break-point opportunity. Sampras smacked 23 aces and another two dozen service winners.
Midway through the fourth set, after Sampras hit yet another ace, Becker covered his eyes in jest. He knew it was over. His game face had gone the way of his game.
Only Fred Perry (1934-36) and Bjorn Borg (1976-80) had won three straight Wimbledon singles titles and Sampras has done it at a time when the depth of men’s tennis is greater than it ever has been.
But this was more than just a journey into history for him. This was an absolutely crucial tournament for him to win.
His performances had taken a downturn in the first six months of the year as his mind wandered too many times off to Gullikson, and even after some settling discussions with Gullikson, he had trouble recapturing his game.
He had lost his No. 1 ranking to Andre Agassi and the Australian Open, too. Then he went out in the first round of the French Open, calling it one of the most difficult losses of his career.
If he was to have any shot at recapturing his No. 1 spot in 1995, he had to win Wimbledon.
Becker, who reached the final with a courageous win over Agassi, played as flawlessly as Sampras in the opening set and won the tiebreak on a screaming service return hit right at the charging Sampras. Forced to make a defensive volley, Sampras blocked it wide and Becker seemed on his way.
But Sampras pulled off the first break of the match in the third game of the second set, broke again two games later, and slowly took control.
“My legs lost their power,” said Becker. And that affected his serve. With no confidence to bore into the net as he did earlier, he began to hit out more on his second serve, hoping to end the points quicker, and wound up with 15 double faults.
“Once I started losing my strength I knew I was in trouble,” he admitted.
Meanwhile, Sampras got rolling after the second-set break. “My serve picked up. My game elevated to a new level,” he said.
It was a hot, muggy day, and Sampras said he thought two tough matches, against Cedric Pioline and Agassi, had caught up with Becker.
Sampras’ victory here seemed anything but ordained earlier in the week. In his first five matches he didn’t seem to have that fine edge needed to win Wimbledon.
“It’s an amazing feat, winning three straight,” said Becker. “Obviously the first time is the toughest. But this year he had to struggle. He wasn’t playing as good as he did and he had to come back for many matches, and to pull it off, it’s something really special.”
Tom Gullikson, Tim’s twin broth er, watched the match from the players’ box, sending Sampras occasional memos from Illinois by yelling “Pistol” between points.
“It sounded just like Tim. When I heard him, I knew it was Tom,” said Sampras. The Pistol was for Pete. And the victory was for Tim.
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