Video of the Week: Agassi vs Sampras 1991

This edition of Video of the Week features a classic match between the two most iconic players of the 1990s, Pete Sampras and Andrea Agassi. Fast courts, contrasting styles of play, a best of five set format in the final and a title with real prestige – precisely what the End of Year Masters lacks as of late. 

Sampras won 6-3 1-6 6-3 in an outstanding match between two of the most gifted players to ever grace a tennis court. Notable in the 13 minute highlights are: Sampras’ brute sledgehammer of a forehand which both set up his net approaches perfectly and was probably the greatest running forehand ever – nothing more than a flick of that huge forearm and the ball would inevitably rocket into the corner; Agassi’s surreal, video game-esque returning of the legendary  Sampras serve (see 0:58, 02:12, 02:17, 03:55 and 04:05); and Agassi’s backhand, a contender for the greatest backhand of all time, which he hit with particular venom both down the line and as a passing shot – it is scary to consider that his backhand was this good when his forehand was considered to be his biggest weapon!

Most astounding about Agassi is that he won all four grand slams in an era of diverse surfaces where to win on grass, clay and hard court logically necessitated a variety of skills and attributes particular to each surface – Agassi ignored this and played the same brand of tennis no matter where, relying solely on his groundstroke ability. He did so despite having poor volleys, being a mediocre athlete and lacking a strong serve. To achieve the career grand slam in face of such deficiencies is testament to his pure quality of groundstroke and absurd hand eye co ordination – probably the greatest combination of the two in recent history.

Sampras if anything was even more gifted. Taking height into account, he possessed arguably the greatest serve of all time, a beautifully languid motion executed with the most fantastically elastic and strong right arm. He combined this devastating serve with great volleys (he had perhaps the best semi-volleys among his generation) which made his service games fly by, merely routine affairs against all but the best opposition. More so, players who possess such enormous offensive capabilities tend to lack the inverse defensive tools. Not so with Sampras, an athletic specimen who moved with the acceleration and ferocity of a panther both when called to defend at the baseline and when stretching for a volley at the net. 

Testament to the quality of the match, midway through the third set, Agassi had 12 errors, Sampras a paltry 10 – they just don’t make em like this anymore!

– TN


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