Sampras Wins 7th Wimbledon Title

Sunday, July 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — The drizzle, double faults and darkness couldn't keep Pete Sampras from making tennis history.

Sampras overcame Patrick Rafter in four sets Sunday to win his seventh Wimbledon title and record-breaking 13th Grand Slam championship.

Sampras served 27 aces and whipped 13 passing shot winners to beat Rafter 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2 in a rain-delayed match that ended at dusk.

After Sampras hit a service winner on match point, he threw both arms in the air, then bent over, put his hands to his eyes, bit his lower lip and began to cry.

Sampras climbed into the stands and hugged his tearful father, Sam, and mother, Georgia, who came to Wimbledon for the first time to watch him go for the record.

Even tournament referee Alan Mills' eyes brimmed with tears.

The victory confirmed Sampras' place as among the greatest players of all time — if not the greatest.

The 28-year-old American matched the record of seven Wimbledon titles, set by William Renshaw in the 1880s, and surpassed the men's record of 12 Grand Slam tournament victories he had shared with Australia's Roy Emerson.

Sampras has won 28 straight matches at Wimbledon, extending his mark there to 53-1 over the past eight years.

``It meant so much to me,'' he said. ``My parents are here today. It's so important to me they could share it with me.

``I love Wimbledon. This is the best court in the world. It's my home away from home.''

Sampras also is only the sixth player in history to win Wimbledon four straight years. The last to do it was Bjorn Borg, who won five straight from 1976-80.

Sampras accomplished the feat despite tendinitis at the front of his left shin, which hobbled him most of the fortnight.

In the end, he did it the way he always has — by outserving his opponent.

Firing first serves at an average speed of 123 mph, with a top delivery of 133 mph, Sampras was never broken Sunday, saving the only two break points against him. He broke Rafter three times.

In seven Wimbledon finals, Sampras has lost his serve only four times in 131 service games.

But mixed in with all his aces and service winners Sunday, Sampras also had 12 double-faults, including several at crucial junctures that nearly cost him the match.

Sampras hit two double-faults in the first-set tiebreaker, including one at 11-10 that gave Rafter the set.

Sampras opened the second tiebreaker with another double, his ninth of the match, and Rafter capitalized to go up 4-1.

Then, suddenly, the match turned in Sampras' favor as Rafter let him off the hook.

A double-fault from Rafter brought Sampras back to 4-4 as he ran off five straight points, punctuated by a searing inside-out forehand pass which he celebrated with an uppercut fist pump.

Sampras ended the tiebreaker by wrong-footing Rafter with a forehand volley, clenching his fist again as he turned to his entourage in the stands.

The first break of serve came after 2 hours, 11 minutes of play, when Rafter, who had saved nine break points until then, slapped an easy forehand volley into the net in the fifth game of the third set. Rafter bounced his racket on the turf in anger.

Sampras slammed his 24th ace to serve it out at love in the 10th game of the third set to go up two sets to one.

By then, it was nearly 8:30 p.m., but play continued into the fourth set.

Sampras got a bit of luck when he broke for a 3-2 lead, a mis-hit backhand flying over Rafter and landing on the baseline.

In the next game, Sampras double-faulted again to give Rafter a break point and chance to stay in the match. Showing the grit that has dug him out of trouble so many times in his career, Sampras saved the break point with a 118 mph second-serve winner.

Sampras held for 4-2 with his 27th ace. Rafter had nothing left, losing serve at 15 in the next game and watching almost helplessly in the final game as Sampras served out the match at love.

``This game is a matter of nerves,'' Sampras said. ``We were both feeling it. I felt it in the first tiebreaker. He felt in the second. The whole match just changed in a matter of minutes.''

There were only a handful of baseline rallies in the whole match. The longest point came in the third game of the fourth set and had 13 shots, ending with Rafter hitting a forehand lob volley over Sampras' shoulder.

The match began an hour late because of rain and play was interrupted twice in the first set. There was a 2 1/2 -hour interruption at 4-4, with Rafter serving at deuce.

``The way the past week and a half has gone it's the been the most difficult'' of the seven titles to win, Sampras said, referring to his leg injury. ``Obviously it's a very emotional time for me. I want this event so bad.''

Sampras received $720,000, Rafter $360,000.

Venus Williams won the women's title Saturday, beating defending champion Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-6 (3) for her first Grand Slam singles championship and the second for the Williams sisters.

Venus and Serena, last year's U.S. Open champion, will play in the women's doubles final Monday against Julie Halard-Decugis and Ai Sugiyama. The match, slated for Sunday, was postponed because of the rain.