New York: Their careers have been intertwined ever since they were adolescents but Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi are now set to wage their latest war as two battle-scarred warriors.
Second seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain and Paola Suarez of Argentina won the women’s doubles title Sunday beating Russia’s Elena Dementieva and Slovakia’s Janette Husarova 6-2, 6-1.
When Sampras and Agassi step on court for the final, it will mark the first time that two players past their 30th birthday will meet for the US Open title since the beginning of the Open era in 1968.
It was at Flushing Meadows 12 years ago when the two Americans engaged in their first memorable duel when a 19-year-old Sampras stunned Agassi, a year his senior, to become the youngest Open champion. Since then Sampras and Agassi have gone on different career paths, with Sampras never losing his focus as he went on to achieve Grand Slam glory 12 more times and have a stranglehold on the number one ranking for six years.
Five years ago, Agassi seemed on the verge of tennis burnout before embarking on a strict regime that has turned a 27-year-old with a paunch to a 32-year-old physical specimen.
Ironically, it was Sampras whose focus on tennis was questioned entering the Open at age 31.
In the midst of his most dismal campaign and having not won a title in 33 events overall, Sampras has shown he still has at least one great run in him, feeding off the New York crowd with some vintage “Pistol Pete” performances.
By reaching the final, Sampras has silenced those who said he no longer had what it took to contend for a major by moving one win away from a fifth Open title and first title of any sort in over two years. “I haven’t shown much this year, little bit frustrating,” Sampras said. “You still just have to remember my ability, I never question that. Even though it’s been a struggle and I’ve lost confidence through the year, at certain times I never questioned that I could be back.”
Agassi arrived in New York looking to turn around what had been a disappointing Grand Slam stretch this year. He missed the Australian Open with a wrist injury, then lost in the French Open quarter-finals before tumbling out of Wimbledon in the second round. Agassi marched through the first four rounds before struggling with Max Mirnyi in the quarters.
But against world number one Lleyton Hewitt in the semi-finals, Agassi ignited the New York crowd with brilliant shot-making that even the fleet-footed Hewitt could not catch up to. Agassi beat Hewitt 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (1-7), 6-2 while Pete Sampras got the better of Sjeng Schalken 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.
“I’m always trying to make little adjustments in my game that can keep my game where it needs to be to compete for the titles at these tournaments,” Agassi said. “I’m not surprised that I’m playing well. I think you always go out there and feel good when you pull off wins like I have over the last two weeks.”
It will be the second straight year that Sampras and Agassi will be on opposite sides inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.