US Open classics: Patrick Rafter vs Pete Sampras, US Open semifinal 1998

Modified 24 Aug 2013
Number three seeded Patrick Rafter of Australia ce

Patrick Rafter reacts after winning his US Open semi-final against Pete Sampras

Scroll down to watch the best moments of the match.

In a gentleman’s game like tennis, it is hard to come across personal attacks or verbal exchanges between players. Most of the players, barring a handful of them, have always taken defeats with grace.

That’s how it has always been in tennis, except for a few occasions when players lost their cool and ended up using demeaning language against their rivals – something like what Pete Sampras did, in 1998, following his loss to Patrick Rafter in Cincinnati.

The former World No.1, who was also a four-time US open champion then, looked totally agitated and devastated when someone asked him to brief the difference between him and the Australian.

Pistol Pete, who was not known for mincing words, was quick to shot back saying: “A difference of ten slams.”

By this remark, he made it clear to everyone that he was not only upset with the defeat but was also considering himself far superior to the person who beat him in Cincinnati.

This comment by the American obviously did not go well with Rafter who used to maintain a calm composure, otherwise, during his playing days.

The cold war started brewing between the two as a result, and the stage was all set for a fierce encounter when both of them, playing in the same half, made it to the semifinals of the US Open in 1998.

Right from the start of the US Open, the fans were eagerly awaiting this clash of the titans to happen. Rafter had more than a point to prove going into the semifinal after having been indirectly named as a “one-slam wonder” by his arch rival.

So when both players made their entry on to the court for the Saturday’s blockbuster semifinal, there was little left to choose between the two. So much so, even their playing styles were quite similar though the head-to-head between the players favoured Sampras.

Although Sampras was struggling with his first serves at the start of the match, getting only 35% of them in, he made it harder for the defending champion to break him. The first set was tied at six games apiece, only to be won by the then-World No.1 on a tie breaker.

The resilient Aussie, though, wasted little time in showcasing his fighting spirit and brought the match back on equal terms by taking the next set 6-4. It was then the whole drama began to unfold.

As Sampras was attempting a backhand volley in the first game of the third set, he almost had a bad fall which resulted in what was later discovered as a grievous injury near the hips and also on his legs. But a dramatic recusance on the part of Sampras resulted in a break of serve after he took a lengthy time-out to recover from the fall.

The match then took a u-turn with the 1997 champion taking full control of the match in the fourth set. He broke the American in the first game of the fourth set and kept on holding his serve without losing a point. It was only when he was serving for the set, Sampras managed to steal a point. But then the damage had already been done and the handsome Aussie took the fourth set 6-4 to force the match into a fifth set.

Sampras, who was barely able to move, was keeping himself alive in the game only by the virtue of his big serves . Otherwise, he sported a deserted look throughout the fourth and final set. Sampras, though had the advantage of serving ahead in the fifth set, failed to make use of the opportunity and was broken in the very first game, conceding the momentum to the Australian.

It was an all-Rafter show then as he hardly gave any opening for the four-time champion. Finally, the match, which promised fireworks at the beginning, scripted a sorry ending, with Sampras’ injury spoiling the entire thing.

It was a forgettable day for Sampras, who had entered the match with the motivation of equalling Roy Emerson’s Grand Slam tally. But, as fate would have it, he got injured at the wrong time and eventually lost to a person to whom he hated losing to. On the other hand, the 25-year old Aussie was jubilant to progress to his second straight US Open final, which he eventually won, defeating his compatriot Mark Philippousis.

Published 24 Aug 2013
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