Friday, August 6, 2004

25 matches to remember

The Enquirer

The event now known as the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters moved to Mason in 1979. The Enquirer decided to pick the best 25 matches of the first 25 tourneys here - essentially the tournament's modern era.

We consulted tournament officials and miles of microfilm. We factored in the significance and quality of each match, plus which players were involved. Here's our list as compiled by Neil Schmidt:

1998 final: Patrick Rafter (5) def. Pete Sampras (1), 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4

Patrick Rafter pumped his fists after breaking Pete Sampras's service in the third set of the '98 classic.
(Enquirer file photo)
A splendid match ended on a sour note when Sampras disputed Rafter's match-winning ace. It was ruled out, but chair umpire Lars Graff overruled the call. Sampras stared him down and remained at the baseline for a while before going to shake Rafter's hand. Then, uncharacteristically, he gave Graff a piece of his mind. Fans backed the Australian during the match, and Sampras made a wry comment to the crowd: "We are in the United States, aren't we?" Rafter's first victory over Sampras in five years looked unlikely early. Down 5-1 in the first set, Rafter tossed his racket to ballboy Chad Little and signaled him to go out and play. "I thought the crowd wasn't really getting their money's worth," Rafter said.

2003 final: Andy Roddick (7) def. Mardy Fish, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4)

At 20, Roddick became the tourney's youngest champion in 18 years. He and Fish, who had lived together for a year, slapped hands after a rally during the second-set breaker, and they embraced at the end. This was the longest final here in terms of games since the advent of the tiebreaker in 1970. Roddick saved two match points.

1983 semifinal: John McEnroe (1) def. Jimmy Connors (3), 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4

The only one of these rivals' 33 meetings to occur here. The match lasted nearly three hours, and both players argued with the linesmen and umpire. In the third set, McEnroe engaged in a shouting match with a heckler. When it appeared the incident might get out of hand, Connors walked over, quieted the fan and McEnroe, and put his arm around his foe as he led him away. The crowd roared.

1988 final: Mats Wilander (2) def. Stefan Edberg (1), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5)

A meeting of Swedes had a bizarre finish, as Wilander rallied from a 6-3, 5-3 deficit for his fourth title here. Beginning the third-set tiebreaker, Edberg asked chair umpire Jim Zimmerman if the match was best-of-three sets or best-of-five. He wasn't joking, although he had won here the year prior.

1985 final: Boris Becker (4) def. Mats Wilander (1), 6-4, 6-2

Beckermania. The 17-year-old had just come from Wimbledon, where he was the unseeded champion, and he flew to California for a taping of The Tonight Show between matches here. He capped his title run with a victory over the two-time defending champ. Becker remains the youngest winner in the tourney's 106-year history.

1984 semifinal: Mats Wilander (3) def. Jimmy Connors (2), 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4)

Wilander faced break point while already trailing 4-0 in the third set but rallied to win. The 32-year-old Connors dusted off the Bad Boy act. He uttered profanities at chair umpire Mark Cox and made a pair of obscene gestures, which earned him a penalty point and $1,250 in fines.

1984 first round: Vijay Amritraj def. John McEnroe (1), 6-7 (6), 6-2, 6-3

Quarterfinals feature a top-ranked reunion
Photos of Thursday's action
25 matches to remember
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Masters results, schedules

This was the finest year of McEnroe's career; he was 59-1 entering this match. Perhaps a victim of the Sports Illustrated jinx - he appeared on its cover just before this event - he became just the second No. 1 seed in Cincinnati history to lose this early.

1980 semifinal: Francisco Gonzalez def. Jimmy Connors (1), 6-2, 7-6 (5)

Gonzalez was a 24-year-old from Puerto Rico, a former Ohio State player ranked No. 119 who was 3-11 on the year before this tourney. The crowd chanted, "Come on, Bucks," and "Go, 'Cisco." Gonzalez lost the final to Harold Solomon.

1993 semifinal: Stefan Edberg (3) def. Pete Sampras (1), 6-7 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (5)

Sampras hit 25 aces and totaled 70 winners but had two costly double faults in the third-set tiebreaker. Edberg, with the crowd backing him, won the match with a blistering service return.

1999 semifinal: Pete Sampras (1) def. Andre Agassi (3), 7-6 (7), 6-4

The only one of their 34 career meetings to happen here. Sampras had Agassi's number that summer, beating him three times in three months, all in straight sets.

1999 final: Pete Sampras (1) def. Patrick Rafter (2), 7-6 (7), 6-3

Bad Blood II. The previous summer, Rafter beat Sampras both here and at the U.S. Open and called him a "crybaby" for blaming the latter loss on an injury. This time the crowd backed Sampras, and he played nearly perfectly.

1988 second round: Vince Spadea def. Andre Agassi (10), 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 (2)

A day before, Agassi said Spadea hadn't impressed him. He served for the match at 5-4, but Spadea broke him and won the decisive tiebreaker.

1995 quarterfinal: Michael Chang (4) def. Jim Courier (11), 3-6, 7-6 (6), 7-5

A three-hour, 3-minute marathon included Chang saving two match points in the second-set tiebreaker and a controversy over Chang's ace on the final point. Courier turned his back, threw down his racket, his hat and his wristband, and stood silently. He glared at chair umpire Paulo Perreira. Finally, Courier turned and slowly went to shake Chang's hand.

1991 rd. of 16: Brad Gilbert (12) def. Andre Agassi (5), 7-6 (7), 6-7 (6), 6-4

Gilbert won and lost on his 30th birthday. He needed two hours, 48 minutes to hold off Agassi 20 hours after their match originally started (just two games were played the night before). Three hours later, Gilbert had to play Jim Courier in a quarterfinal and was routed 6-3, 6-3.

1996 quarterfinal: Thomas Muster (2) def. Wayne Ferreira (9), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (14)

This included the longest tiebreaker in tourney history. Ferreira saved 10 match points in the breaker before finally succumbing.

1980 second round: Jimmy Connors (1) def. Sherwood Stewart, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3

Connors grew so upset after repeated overrules by chair umpire Bill Heckle that, down 2-1 in the second set, he gestured that he wanted Heckle replaced.

When nothing happened, he went to Stewart - a 35-year-old doubles specialist - to concede the match. Grand Prix referee supervisor Zeno Pfau checked the situation and decided to pull Heckle. Jim Meakin took the chair and the match continued. All parties, including Heckle, said later that the right decision had been made.

1984 first round: Guillermo Vilas (7) def. Tom Gullikson, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (7)

This three-hour, 20-minute match is believed to be the longest since the tourney moved to Mason. The 32-year-old Vilas saved a match point in the final tiebreaker.

1988 quarterfinal: Aaron Krickstein (12) def. Kevin Curren (14), 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (10)

Krickstein saved four match points and won on the fifth match point of his own.

2002 quarterfinal: Fernando Gonzalez def. Andy Roddick (12), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (6)

Perhaps the hardest-hitting match in tourney history. The then-unheralded Gonzalez ripped 44 winners. Roddick called the match "a blast."

1983 final: Mats Wilander (4) def. John McEnroe (1), 6-4, 6-3

The day before his 19th birthday, Wilander claimed his first hard-court title, his first of any kind in America. McEnroe had played both singles and doubles the night prior and said it was after 3 a.m. when he went to bed.

1997 semifinal: Thomas Muster (5) def. Michael Chang (2), 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (2)

Muster ended Chang's bid for a fifth straight final appearance. This was Muster's second consecutive match to reach a third-set tiebreaker.

1995 final: Andre Agassi (1) def. Michael Chang (4), 7-5, 6-2

Chang was vying for a third consecutive title. This came during a 26-match winning streak for Agassi that ended in a loss to Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open final.

2003 first round: Roger Federer (3) def. Scott Draper, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10)

The Wimbledon champion survived seven match points, including coming back from 6-2 down in the tiebreaker.

1986 final: Mats Wilander (1) def. Jimmy Connors (2), 6-4, 6-1

Wilander won his third tournament in four years here. He had lost only five sets in those four years.

1983 quarterfinal: John McEnroe (1) def. Jimmy Arias (6), 6-3, 3-6, 6-0

Late in the second set, McEnroe took a three-minute injury timeout that stretched to seven minutes. He also was assessed a point penalty for delay of game for arguing a call too long. Arias claimed McEnroe's delays gave him new life and turned the match around.

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