Two of the greatest players of all time, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, produced one of the greatest rivalries in the history of tennis too. And Sampras believes that their rivalry peaked when they fought in the quarterfinals of the 2001 US Open.
Between 1989 and 2002, the two American stalwarts faced each other as many as 34 times, with Sampras winning 20 and losing 14. At the 2001 US Open, aiming for his 14th Major, Sampras defeated former US Open winners Patrick Rafter and Marat Safin on his way to the final, but ended up losing to Lleyton Hewitt.
In his autobiography A Champion's Mind, the former World No. 1 remarked on how that particular tournament was his career's most 'interesting and challenging'.
"It was one of the most interesting and challenging tournaments of my career because in order to win, I would have to beat three former U.S. Open champions — two dangerous guys who had shown themselves to be more or less oblivious to whatever edge my reputation theoretically gave me (Pat Rafter and Marat Safin), and one deadly rival who just would not go away — Andre," Sampras wrote.
Pete Sampras further weighed in on his competition with Agassi, crediting the eight-time Grand Slam champion for bringing out the best in him. He defeated Agassi 6-7(7), 7-6(2), 7-6(2), 7-6(5) in a high-quality quarterfinal at the 2001 US Open.
Sampras lavished rich praise on Agassi, calling him the "gold standard" for his rivals. He also recalled how no one else could push him to the lengths his compatriot frequently did.
"It was fitting that Andre was the last man standing when it came to my rivalries. Andre was the toughest during that great summer of 1995, and then again near the very end of our careers, culminating with the night-session quarterfinals at the 2001 Open — a match that was the crowning moment of our rivalry and, to me, our toughest and greatest battle,” Pete Sampras said.
“Volumes have been written about my rivalry with Andre, and from every perspective. In my heart of hearts, I know he was the guy who brought out the best in me. He had ups and downs, which accounts for why we didn’t have more confrontations, especially in big finals. But Andre was still the gold standard among my rivals. Nobody else popped up as frequently, over as long a period of time, to test and push me to the max,” he added.
Novak Djokovic gives his thoughts on the playing styles of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi
During a press conference at the 2023 Australian Open, Novak Djokovic weighed in on the generally aggressive style of play in North America, which was best represented by the likes of John McEnroe and Pete Sampras. The Serb also stated that Andre Agassi was different, since he stayed back near the baseline and returned better than others -- a playstyle more similar to his own.
"How I would describe North America, it would be probably the kind of style of tennis that is focused a lot on the powerful and accurate serve, and aggressive style, coming to the net," Djokovic said.
"Of course, some of the biggest champions of our sport that came from United States had different styles, like John McEnroe to Pete Sampras to Andre Agassi, right? Andre Agassi was probably the first guy that returned so well, stayed back - after Borg - not coming into the net as much as the other guys," he added.