Rewind: When Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi played out a match with only tie-breakers and no service breaks

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi played out an epic 2001 US Open quarterfinal in which four sets went into tie-breakers and there was no break in service.

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi played out four tie-breakers and none dropped their service. (Image credit: Twitter)
By Siddharth vishwanathan | Aug 12, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us


The rivalry between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi was legendary in the 90s and the early 21st century. Sampras and Agassi played each other 34 times, with Sampras holding a 20-14 advantage. There have been many topsy-turvy encounters between the two legends. Agassi never got the better of Sampras in Wimbledon. However, Sampras had to face heartbreak in the hard courts of Australia and the US Open.

There have been several epic clashes between Agassi and Sampras in their 12-year history. However, there is one encounter in the 2001 US Open quarterfinal. Sampras and Agassi which is termed as an all-time classic. In that quarterfinal encounter, Sampras and Agassi played out a brilliant four-set tie-breaker. Sampras managed to win the match 6-7 (9), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5). It was perhaps the only time when a four-set match could produce such an epic.

The Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi encounter

In the last 12 encounters between Sampras and Agassi in three years leading up to the US Open 2001, both of them had won six games apiece. There was nothing separating both the players. Sampras won the 1999 Wimbledon tournament by beating Agassi in the final. But, Agassi got his own by winning the Australian Open in 2000 by beating Sampras in a five-set thriller in the semi-final.

In the quarterfinal, neither player gave an inch. The service power of both Agassi and Sampras was at its peak. However, in one instance, Sampras managed to get the better of Agassi in the service. It was the power of aces, in which Sampras hit 25 and Agassi managed only 18.

The first set was poised on an absolute knife-edge and gave an indication of the classic that it would be. Both Sampras and Agassi held their serves and the match went into the tie-breaker. Agassi returned Sampras’ serve brilliantly as he won the tie-breaker 9-7. But, it was at that point that Sampras raised his game.

Sampras on top with his serve

The brilliance of Sampras’ game was because of his accurate and powerful serve. On the big match, his serve held brilliantly. Sampras consistently clocked over 120 mph in the serve. More than the normal service games, it was in the tie-breaker where his booming serve was helping him come out of trouble.

In the second set tie-breaker, the momentum went to Sampras when Agassi double-faulted. Sampras won the second set tie-breaker 7-2. The same pattern is repeated in the third set. Sampras served brilliantly but Agassi held his own. In the crucial points, Agassi’s serve let him down. Sampras served brilliantly and took a two sets to one lead when he won the third set tie-breaker as well.

Sampras and Agassi continued to trade blows but none refused to drop serve. Remarkably, the fourth set also went to a tie-breaker. In this set, Sampras and Agassi raised their game to a different level altogether. At 5-5, it could have been anybody’s game. But, Sampras won a crucial point and he managed to win the match in grand style. Sampras won the tie-breaker epic in grand style to enter the semi-final.

A standing ovation for both Sampras and Agassi

After the match, both players got a standing ovation at Arthur Ashe stadium. Steffi Graf, the 22-time Grand Slam champion and Agassi’s wife, was expecting the birth of his child and cheered her husband from the stands. But, despite losing the match, there was a sense of pride. The match represented the high point in the Agassi-Sampras rivalry.

After the match, both players gave their verdict about the result. “It’s disappointing for me but I’m glad to have been a part of it. It came down to the wire. How much closer can you get? When I won the first set tie-break I had the momentum but he came up with such great shots. I felt the pace of the match was up his alley, both of us taking care of the serve. It was a match more to his liking. He served big at big moments and dug out some great volleys. I certainly didn’t underestimate him. You just want to feel you’ve made someone earn it. A match like this makes you appreciate how special it is when you beat him,’ Agassi stated.

Sampras, on the other hand, gushed with respect for Agassi. “When we play the difference in our games and personalities means it is a good clash. It’s always intense and we’ll go toe-to-toe again. I don’t know where all the stories about my retirement came from. Andre and Pete has the sort of rivalry that will go down in history,” Sampras said.

For all the fans at Flushing Meadows and the millions watching on TV, this match shall forever be remembered as a classic. It was the peak in the epic rivalry of Sampras and Agassi.



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