The 10 best U.S. Open men’s matches this century: Sampras vs Agassi, quarterfinal, 2001
The U.S. Open has been the stage for some of the best men’s singles matches ever seen, and with the dawn of a new decade, now seems like a good time to cast our gaze back and review the best encounters in recent memory.
Here tennishead relives a classic men’s U.S. Open match from the 21st century.
Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi, quarterfinal, 2001
Ash-Laver. Borg-McEnroe. Federer-Nadal. Rivalries light up the sport, with the Grand Slam events tending to match familiar foes in the final with all the marbles at stake. Not always, though. Sometimes the score must be settled earlier, as happened in the 2001 U.S. Open quarterfinal, when the most engrossing rivalry of the past decade penned its latest chapter.
Seeded 10th and 2nd respectively, Sampras and Agassi were determined to embarrass the organisers by demonstrating a level of tennis that, let’s be frank, none of the other players in the draw could match. Four-time champion Sampras was fresh out of Slams having conceded his Wimbledon crown to a young Roger Federer a few months earlier, and Agassi oozed confidence having claimed his fourth Australian Open title in January. A two-time U.S. Open winner, “The Punisher” had always struggled against Sampras in New York, suffering defeats to his nemesis in the 1990 and 1995 finals. In 2001, both were older and wiser and tennis was on the cusp of a remarkable new era. The stage was set for what turned out to be the greatest match of their canon.
Throughout the nerve-shredding 3hr 33min encounter, before a raucous 23,000 night-time crowd, Sampras and Agassi highlighted once more why they were titans of the men’s game – even in their early thirties. Agassi drew first blood, somehow scraping through the first-set tie break despite being 6-3 down. How? By daring to be great and crushing the ball from the back of the court. In the second, the match proceeded on serve, Sampras racking up multiple aces and holding with ease despite some individual moments of brilliance from his counterpunching antagonist. Agassi was similarly assured, landing 84% of first serves and making just three unforced errors in the entire set. But it was Sampras who raised his level when it mattered, restoring parity courtesy of some breathtakingly clean hitting on the run. The winner, a purely reflexive volley at the net, sent the crowd into raptures.
Like Sampras after set one, Agassi refused to let the setback haunt him and if anything became more aggressive, hitting 20 winners against just five unforced errors in the third. It simply wasn’t enough, as Sampras again won the tie break, before repeating the feat in the fourth. Amazingly, neither man managed to break serve in the whole match, Sampras saving three and Agassi rescuing six.
Sampras summed up the clash years later: “Two great players playing great at the same time. That doesn’t often happen.” Amen.
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