Peak Sampras, Agassi: Remembering 1995 Montreal

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At the peak of their rivalry, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras shut down four blocks of downtown San Francisco for a day in 1995, for the Guerrilla Tennis television commercial — conceived by their mutual clothing sponsor and directed by Spike Jonze — that featured eight cameras and 400 extras.

The 30-second advert that saw Sampras direct traffic and Agassi hastily string up a net across a busy intersection, was perfectly timed and became not just synonymous with their dynamic, high-energy, must-see matches, but also their battle for No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. That year, the Americans met in five finals — at the Australian Open, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, the Miami Open presented by Itau, the Coupe Rogers in Montreal and at the US Open.

Agassi, who’d usurped Sampras to claim the top spot for the first time on 10 April 1995, bounced back from a disappointing European summer to set a sizzling pace on his favourite surface: hard courts. Arriving at Jarry Stadium in Montreal, on the back of capturing the Citi Open crown in Washington, D.C., Agassi extended his run of form with straight-sets victories over Jeff Tarango, Daniel Vacek, MaliVai Washington and Mats Wilander to reach his eighth final of the year.

Sampras, who came into Montreal on the back of his third Wimbledon trophy, had beaten Jonathan Stark, Mauricio Hadad and Michael Stich in Montreal, prior to a deciding set tie-break victory over Thomas Enqvist in the semi-finals. He was 16 matches unbeaten.

ATP Heritage: Milestones. Records. Legends.

In testing, windy conditions and searing heat, Sampras started brightly, breaking Agassi in the sixth game of the first set. But as the match wore on, Agassi retaliated, playing with greater aggression and hitting inside-out forehands to Sampras’ backhand, which inevitably cracked. Agassi targeted 70 per cent of his serves to Sampras’ weaker wing.

While Sampras saved two break point in the opening game of the decider, he double faulted twice in the third game and ended the match with an uncharacteristic 43 per cent first-serve percentage. He only serve-volleyed three times on his second serve, largely playing from the baseline. With that tactic, there was only going to be one winner.

Agassi reaffirmed his status as the world’s premier player in front of 10,000 fans with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory — the 400th match win of his career — to successfully retain the Canadian crown. It was Agassi’s third title on Canadian soil in four years and levelled his ATP Head2Head series against Sampras at 8-8.

It was a fitting finale to the old stadium, which was torn down and rebuilt in 1996. At the trophy presentation ceremony, Tournament Director John Beddington said, “Seventeen years ago, we had a dream. Today, we had a dream final. Next year, you will have a dream stadium.” Agassi knelt down and signed “Bye, bye” onto the court.

Agassi went on to compile a 26-match winning streak during the North American hard-court swing, adding the Western & Southern Open and New Haven titles. The streak ended in the US Open final to Sampras, who eventually returned to No. 1 on 5 November 1995, breaking Agassi’s 30-week stint at the summit. It was the year that their rivalry was at the forefront of superstar tennis.

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