ThrowbackTimes Miami: Pete Sampras edges Gustavo Kuerten after titanic battle

Standing as the dominant figure in men’s tennis for over half a decade, Pete Sampras started to slow down a bit in 1999, plagued with injuries that kept him out from the court in January and also between August and November. When his game was in the highest gear, Pete was still the player to beat on the Tour, winning titles at Queen’s, Wimbledon, Los Angeles and Cincinnati and rattling off 24 victories in a row before missing all the tournaments until Paris Masters, including the US Open. The American finished the season with a title at the Masters Cup and was ready to embrace a reduced schedule in 2000, competing at only 13 tournaments and lifting the titles in Miami and Wimbledon. The final of the Miami Masters was one of the best in the history of the famous Florida event. Pete prevailed against Gustavo Kuerten 6-1, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in three hours and 18 minutes to grab his 62nd ATP title and also the last at the Masters 1000 series (by the end of his career, he would win Wimbledon 2000 and the US Open 2002).

In the third round, Sampras barely beat Andreas Vinciguerra, passing three top-20 obstacles after that to reach the final and seeking his third Miami crown after back-to-back ones in 1993 and 1994. It was the second match against the clay-court specialist after the 1999 Masters Cup, and Pete needed his best tennis to overpower the Brazilian and claim the trophy on his seventh match point in the fourth set tie break! Firing 20 aces, Sampras erased five out of six break points to keep the pressure on the other side of the net, while Gustavo did his best to fend off 11 out of 14 and overcome a second-set deficit to stay in touch with a mighty opponent. Pete won 13 points more than Gustavo, and it was a fast and floating match with short rallies and many service winners on each side, with both players eager to take control and impose their shots as quickly as possible. Kuerten had a slim edge in the shortest points, although Sampras compensated that in the more extended exchanges to bring the match home after a great battle.

The American drew first blood in the fourth game when he broke after a lovely volley at the net, saving a break point in the next game to increase the lead to 4-1. Kuerten struggled to find his shots and dropped serve again in game six following Sampras’ volley winner, who was now serving for the set. A home player blasted four aces to grab the opener 6-1, looking determined to bring more of the same in the rest of the clash and grab the trophy. Gustavo had to dig deep right from the start of the second set, saving two break chances in the opening game to avoid the setback before Sampras eventually got the break at 2-2, dominating at the net and keeping the points on his racquet to forge the advantage. Pete confirmed the lead with a hold at love and had a set point on the return in game nine while leading 5-3. Gustavo saved it for a vital hold and had to break Pete in the next game to prolong the set, which was never easy.

In 2000, Pete Sampras won memorable Miami final over Gustavo Kuerten.

Sampras served great so far, but the Brazilian managed to read his serves better in that tenth game to earn his first break with a beautiful backhand lob that sent the momentum to his side of the net. Kuerten held from 0-30 down at 5-5 to move in front, and the set went into a tie break after a good service game from Sampras. Kuerten’s backhand worked better and better, sealing the deal with two service winners to take the breaker 7-2 and boost his confidence after an impressive turnaround. They both served well in the third set’s opening seven games, and Sampras was the first who made damage on the return, creating two break opportunities at 4-3. The second was a huge one, but he missed a routine forehand that could have cost him dearly had he lost the match in the end. The set went into a tie break, and Pete moved 5-1 and 6-3 in front.

Kuerten saved the first couple of set points on his serve before Pete clinched it with a nice serve&smash combo that gave him so many points throughout his career, winning the breaker 7-5 and moving a set away from the title. Gustavo kept fighting and could score an early break in set number four, with two break chances up for grabs in game two. Pete repelled them with two winners and was in charge in the next one after creating a break chance. Gustavo denied it to remain on the right side of the scoreboard, and we saw some excellent serving on both sides that sent the Brazilian 6-5 ahead, leaving Sampras serving to stay in the set at the three-hour mark. A return winner gave Gustavo a set point, but Pete saved it with a service winner, one of the most important he hit in the entire match. Another good return delivered the second break chance for the Brazilian, only to be denied by Sampras’ volley winner at the net.

The American brought the game home with two service winners to survive the challenge and head towards the third tie break, a must-win one for Gustavo. Sampras was more composed and opened a 6-2 lead, with Kuerten hitting a service winner and two good returns to reduce the deficit to 6-5, with the match being pretty much on again when Sampras sprayed a backhand error to let his rival climb back to 6-6. Pete earned the fifth match point with a backhand winner but hit a double fault to prolong this dramatic encounter and give the crowd more fuel and excitement.

A service winner pushed him 8-7 in front, and that again wasn’t enough to seal the deal, with an unreturned serve from the other side of the net that kept them locked at 8-8. Kuerten saved six match points so far and had to play against the seventh one after a volley winner from Sampras at the net. It proved to be the lucky one for the American, converting it after Gustavo’s poor forehand. The Brazilian smashed his racquet in a fury after such a close encounter that could have easily gone into a deciding set and last for over four hours.

Leave a Reply