Inevitably, Pete Sampras was serving for another Wimbledon championship, serving for the decade, really. If tennis started right now, Andre Agassi included, it would not be likely to catch Sampras before the millennium.
The ball kicked high to Boris Becker’s forehand and Becker’s forehand struggled to return the ball wide. Becker could have had four hands and it would have been the same.
Game. Set. Match. Wimbledon.
“To get a three-peat,” said the One-Pete, “I’m pretty proud of that.”
Later, when the crowd had a chance to show whom they loved the most, they threw Becker kisses and urged him to take a lap around the stadium. And he did, waving his puny loser’s plate while Sampras waited with the winner’s cup.
This will change someday. Becker said it would. All that’s missing for Sampras is public affection, always fickle and always late.
“I plan to play another 12 years,” said Sampras, 23, “somewhere into my mid-30s.”
Deal with it, world. Pistol Pete isn’t going anywhere. You’ll find him at the service line on the last day of the tournaments that count and the tournaments that don’t. He is a tennis player. He is the tennis player.
“Many people have been talking about a role model with Andre Agassi,” Becker said. “If there’s one role model in tennis, it is Pete Sampras. He’s behaving perfectly on the court. He’s a real nice fellow off the court and he’s playing great tennis altogether.”
So, if it is Agassi joining him at the end of these things, fine. If it is Becker or if it is Yevgeny Kafelnikov, no matter.
“You want to win as many big finals as you can,” Sampras said. “You never know how many times it is going to happen. Nobody really cares who comes in second.”
At this Wimbledon, Sampras saved his best for last, and if the best was not saved for Sampras across the Centre Court net, Becker was at least a brand name, the biggest souvenir of any so far in Sampras’ six Grand Slam titles.
“He owns Centre Court,” said Becker. “I used to own it. Now it belongs to him.”
Add Becker to the list, joining Cedric Pioline, Todd Martin, Jim Courier and some of those other Grand Slam losers to Sampras, who is now just one Grand Slam win behind John McEnroe and three years sooner.
So even if Becker was not only outplayed but outdated, it is easy to forget that Becker himself is only 27.
“I get disturbed when I see I’m called the ‘Old Lion,”’ Becker said. “It must be my beard.”
It was bad theater, this men’s final, but that was because of Becker, not Sampras. Becker played like a man feeling around for the last step into a dark basement.
“When you get only 20 points in the match and seven from his double faults,” Becker said, “it is not like you can do anything about it.”
And it was bad theater because of Agassi, who had the ranking and the contradictory game to make memories against Sampras, to give the world the final it wanted, but Agassi forfeited his appointment by surrendering from in front to Becker.
This may not matter. Agassi may get over this, but surrender is a habit as hard to break as is Sampras’ serve.
And Becker had so much trouble with it that Becker finally mimed a blind man crossing the street, covering his eyes and using his racket for a cane. Sampras did not give Becker one break point.
“He hits those bombs and you just hope for rain,” Becker said.
It is not up to Sampras to wait for tennis to catch up to him, to his serve, to his volley, to his pace, to his will, to his focus. If tennis wants a rivalry, it knows where Sampras is.
Ready when you are, Andre.
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