Rejoice, ball-boys and towel-girls of the ATP. The third round of the Ultimate ATP Tournament is set and ready to rock. If you thought the first couple rounds of action were tantalizing, think again. You ain't seen nothin' yet.
The salacious 16. Members of this group have already passed two rounds of the most challenging play they have ever experienced.
And their reward is an even more exigent foe.
These would all be championship matches elsewhere, but not in the Ultimate Tournament.
Strap on your wetsuits, parachutes, oxygen tanks, and fire-retardant vests: it's time for an adventure.
Second Round summary.
Here's the results of the top half, which includes Rod Laver and Pete Sampras.
Match No. 49: No. 1 Rod Laver (AUS) vs. Jim Courier (USA)
The No. 1 overall seed, coming off a less than stellar victory over Marat Safin, still has a good bit to prove. Jim Courier has already proved his grit, hammering out a tough five-set win over John Newcombe. Do I smell an upset already?
Normally, the advantage on hard courts would go to Courier. But a flat Courier and a dialed-in Laver flips that switch in a hurry.
Laver seemed to take his game to another gear, as he looked as close to invincible as you can get. Despite Courier grabbing four games, the set was not even contested as Laver dominated nearly the entire time.
Courier had lost a lot of confidence and was also looking very sluggish. He was missing routine forehands and double faulting. Sad story.
Not for Laver, as he continued his hot hand. Controlling play on the clay from the first toss, the Australian was in mid-season form. Another 6-4 victory.
Courier was about as good as a fish in a barrel at this point. Stick a fork in him. His confidence was obliterated. Laver had recreated his aura, and kept it going on the grass. A very easy 6-3 win for Laver eased him into the quarterfinals.
Result: Laver in three. 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
Match No. 50: Andy Roddick (USA) vs. No. 8 Ivan Lendl (CZE)
A-Rod has already played the spoiler for No. 9 Ken Rosewall. Could he do it again? Ivan the Terrible had some different thoughts, as the record holder for most Slam finals played in. A matchup pitting the father of the power era against its son, this could get ugly.
Roddick stepped onto the court as a man who had something to prove. His first four serves, all travelling at over 140 mph, immediately showed Lendl what he had created. Lendl looked a little shell shocked, but he responded with his own power, and it quickly turned into a very fast set. Tiebreak already.
Roddick is straight up money in breakers. He does it again here, grabbing the first set from Lendl.
Ivan the Terrible is not too pleased about that. He headed to the clay with a sense of confidence, while Roddick has never been a factor. Lendl was a master of adaptation, as he took his game straight to Roddick. It paid immediate dividends, as he gained a fast lead. Tie match soon after.
Grass was the one surface that Ivan never looked fully comfortable on. Roddick lost himself two straight Wimbledon finals in perfect Lendl form. Roddick showed off his serve again, but more importantly his athleticism. He chased down everything Ivan hit, making the Czech hit extra shots nearly every point.
Roddick was eventually able to push through, and gain another set, pushing Lendl to the brink of elimination. Another upset?
It would be prolonged, if there was one. Carpet courts are hardly A-Rod's forte. Roddick unhappily played the role of the lost kid in the supermarket, because he showed very little mastery of the carpet. Lendl walked though, 6-1.
Lendl was now on his heels. He had to beat Roddick on hard courts. The winner of five hard court championships wasn't about to back down. He got an early break and held serve the rest of the way for an oddly comfortable 6-4 victory. Roddick did not seem disappointed in his performance.
Result: Lendl in five. 6-7, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-4.
Match No. 51: No. 5 Andre Agassi (USA) vs. No. 12 Boris Becker (GER)
Finally, some guys with a history. Agassi and Becker met up 14 times during their illustrious careers. Agassi took ten of those, with Becker winning only once after 1989. Agassi and Becker were as fierce of rivals as any, except this one models today's Federer vs. Nadal. It was completely one-sided for the most part.
Agassi was one of the greatest hard court players to ever live. He was also 6-1 lifetime against Becker on the concrete. The fighting American came out of the gate like a funny car, in seventh gear already. He could do no wrong, and Becker could do very little right against Agassi's passive-aggressive defense.
At least nobody in the crowd brought "D-FENSE" signs. Agassi cruised to a ridiculously easy looking 6-3 victory and did not face a break point.
The staunch combatants only met once on clay, a four-set win for Agassi at Roland Garros. Agassi wanted to force mistakes out of Becker's serve, and he did exactly that. Despite Becker launching seven aces, Agassi relentlessly attacked his second serve. But still, for all of Agassi's pressure, Becker maintained his focus and was only broken once.
Pity for him. Agassi was broken zero times, once again. So the American takes a commanding 2-0 lead going to grass.
Becker needed something fast. A call to the trainer? Nah. A banana works just fine. The German exploded on grass as if he was shot out of a howitzer cannon. Aces? Check. High first serve percentage? Check two. First serve points won? Checkmate. Becker was unstoppable, even for Agassi.
He got two early breaks to lead 4-0. Agassi would fight his way back, but come up short. 6-4, Becker.
Becker has life again, but he still needs a miracle and two more sets against Agassi to advance. Carpet sounds like fun. The two have had very mixed results, with basically every victory coming in blowout fashion. Becker had the luck of the, uh, Germans with him as a snakebit Agassi dropped yet another early break.
Agassi now was getting none of the calls or bounces while Becker was getting all of them. Agassi rolled deuces. Becker was screaming "Yahtzee!". Agassi would again fight back, and again come up short. Becker had brought the match back to even terms.
Back to the hard courts we go. The ultimate litmus test. Becker had a higher level of confidence, while Agassi still felt as though Eagle Eye couldn't make a call in a phone booth. Both players started out a little too conservative, not wanting to surrender an early break. They both did. Twice, to be honest.
At two all, both players put the car back on four wheels and started to get some holds. At 7-7, the crowd was on the edge of their seats, biting their fingernails off attempting to watch the duel that appeared destined to go until judgement day.
At 30-40, nine all, Becker was serving for his life. A fateful second serve saw his racquet strings betray him, leading to a double fault. It was the deciding play, as Becker threw the stick to the ground. Agassi had survived.
Result: Agassi in five. 6-3, 7-5, 4-6, 5-7, 11-9.
Match No. 52: No. 13 Guillermo Vilas (ARG) vs. No. 4 Pete Sampras (USA)
Pistol Pete is back for more. Open the box, pull his string, and I guarantee it'll be worth every Benjamin of the admission ticket. Vilas however, is just as much fun. The clay court major with a triple minor in hard, grass and carpet courts plugged in the longest all-surface winning streak in history for a reason.
There are hard court players and then there is Hyperion, also known as Pete Sampras. Vilas, as a mere mortal human, has some work to do. The titan flexed his muscles early, raining down a barrage of forehands and serves. Unlucky for Vilas, he forgot his umbrella and Holy Bible, because he didn't have a prayer.
Pistol Pete won the first set convincingly before Patrick McEnroe could even think about a commercial break.
Enter Coeus, the titan on clay. In an instant role switch, Sampras would now be playing the mortal. Not sure if the crowd paid to see what happens when an unstoppable force meets a desk chair, but they found out anyway. It was 5-0 Vilas before Sampras even had a realistic chance of holding his own serve.
Sampras did hold serve, but it was far too late. The eagle had already taken his liver. Chalk up a set for Vilas too, 6-1.
Finally a toss up set. Vilas had gained a little momentum from the last set, but Sampras had already regained a lot of confidence too going to grass. No luck for either though as a Class Four hurricane moved in over the playing surface. The chair umpire decided to go inside and play the carpet court set next.
Indoor confines are much better during a torrential downpour, but it killed the rhythm. Both players were also decent on the carpet. Sampras jumped out early with a break, but Vilas responded right back with his own. The set then turned into an arm wrestling duel, with neither player yielding an inch.
It was Pistol Pete to finally break the stalemate and get a second break. Set for Petros, 6-4.
Poseidon obviously wasn't trying to make new friends, as the storm continued for another two hours.
[Patrick McEnroe babbling about his brother while showing a Maria Sharapova highlight reel]
After the storm subsided, the tarps were lifted and the grass was ready to go. Both players came out extraordinarily flat, but the level of play quickly picked back up again. Vilas, facing elimination, was throwing everything but lightning bolts at Sampras.
The seven-time Wimbledon champion could sense the finish line, and he took his game up one more notch to get the necessary break.
Game, set, match, Pete Sampras.
Result: Sampras in four. 6-2, 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.
- No. 1 Rod Laver (AUS) vs. No. 8 Ivan Lendl (CZE)
- No. 5 Andre Agassi (USA) vs. No. 4 Pete Sampras (USA)