ThrowbackTimes Rome: Pete Sampras eases past Boris Becker in unexpected final

Pete Sampras made giant steps on the ATP Tour in 1990, winning the US Open and Grand Slam Cup and establishing himself as one of the finest players on the fast surfaces. Out of Pete’s 64 ATP titles, only three came on clay, with the most important one landed in Rome 1994 when he defeated Boris Becker 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in an hour and 52 minutes for his fifth Masters 1000 title and the third in 1994 after Indian Wells and Miami. As many times during the 90s, it was a wide-open draw at Foro Italico, and Pete didn’t have to play against the rivals from the top-25 en route to the final. Becker was the best opponent to compete against in an ATP final on clay, as he lost all four Masters 1000 finals on the slowest surface and finished his career without an ATP title on clay. It was their eighth meeting and the fifth win for the American, the fourth in a row, earning it with an excellent serving display and all three break points saved. Pete landed 47% of the first serve in, and no one could notice that since he lost just 30% of the points in his games.

On the other hand, Becker struggled even more with the initial shot, serving at a miserable 34% and ruining chances for a more favorable result. The German never found the rhythm, and Pete won over half of the return points, creating nine break chances and converting six for a commanding victory. Sampras had a massive advantage in the shortest points and made a crucial difference on the court, serving well and doing a lot of damage with his first groundstroke or volley. Becker stayed in touch in the points that reached the fifth stroke, which wasn’t enough to keep him in contention longer or make the encounter more exciting. The German had a chance to move in front in the first game of the match but netted a forehand before Pete held with a beautiful backhand down the line winner to avoid an early setback. A backhand return winner gave Sampras a break in game two, and he found himself 3-0 up when Boris sent a forehand into the net.

Pete Sampras stormed over Boris Becker in the 1994 Rome Open final.

Things went from bad to worse for a former Major champion, as he hit a double fault in game four to extend his downfall before creating a break chance in the next one. Pete repelled it with an excellent volley and closed the game with a forehand winner that sent him 5-0 up. Becker delivered an excellent hold in game six before Sampras closed the set with a reliable service game a few minutes later, taking the opener 6-1 in 35 minutes. Set number two offered nothing new, and Pete gained an instant lead with a break in the opening game when Becker netted a backhand. The American held at love in game two after another loose backhand from the German to cement the advantage. Boris avoided another upset after holding in game three with a forehand winner and staying in touch with Sampras until game seven when the American grabbed another break with a crosscourt forehand winner. Everything worked well for world no. 1, and he fired a forehand winner at 5-2 to close the set and move one away from the trophy.

Carried by this momentum, Pete broke at love at the start of the third set with a volley winner, and the finish line was clearly within his reach now, having to serve well in the remaining games to grab the trophy. Nonetheless, Becker created a break chance with a magnificent volley winner in the second game that Sampras erased with a good forehand attack that drew another backhand error from the German, keeping his serve intact and bringing the game home with a service winner. Becker saved a break point in game three to reduce the deficit, but Pete was not to be denied, firing a forehand winner in game six to maintain in front and build a 4-2 advantage.

Becker’s fate was sealed when he got broken at love a few minutes later after Sampras’ backhand winner. The American completed an impressive triumph with his famous smash winner in game eight, celebrating the most prominent title on his least favorite surface and proving he was above all the others when he had his day, even on clay. It was Pete’s 27th victory in a row after losing in the opening round of Philadelphia in February, winning 39 out of 41 matches since the start of the season and conquering seven titles from nine tournaments played.

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