1994 Miami Final: The Day A Wounded Sampras 'Pecked Out' Agassi's Eyes
Andre Agassi had a big decision to make ahead of the 1994 Miami final.
When he walked into the locker room that day, his opponent, Pete Sampras, was suffering on the floor due to stomach illness. It seemed clear Sampras would not be prepared to take the court on time, which would give Agassi the title, the FedEx ATP Ranking points that came with lifting the trophy, and the champion's prize money. It wasn't his fault Sampras was ill.
"I woke up at 7 feeling nauseated, heaving and gagging. I didn't think I'd be able to go out and play," Sampras said, according to the New York Times. "Had IV's in me all the way from 10:45 to 12:20."
Agassi would not let down the thousands of fans in the stands, nor would he force Sampras into a walkover. He allowed Sampras the time he needed, which amounted to about an hour.
Sampras was the favourite heading into the match — when not considering his illness — competing as the top seed and defending champion. The World No. 1 had already won titles at Sydney, the Australian Open and Indian Wells in 1994, bringing plenty of momentum into Miami.
Agassi was ranked World No. 31, his lowest standing since November 1987. The American underwent right wrist surgery the previous December, which prevented him from playing the 1994 Australian Open.
But Agassi found his form in Miami, beating Boris Becker, Cedric Pioline, Stefan Edberg and Pat Rafter. It was his first tournament with new coach Brad Gilbert. According to Agassi’s book, Open, the pair walked into the locker room before the final and found Sampras on the floor.
“The doctor gives Pete an IV, then props him on his feet. Pete wobbles, a newborn colt. He’ll never make it… Should be a short night, I tell Brad,” Agassi wrote. “But Pete does it again. He sends his evil twin onto the court. This is not the Pete who was curled in a ball on the locker-room floor. This is not the Pete who was getting an IV and wobbling in circles. This Pete is in the prime of life, serving at warp speed, barely breaking a sweat. He’s playing his best tennis, unbeatable, and he jumps out to a 5-1 lead.
“Now I’m angry. I feel as if I found a wounded bird, brought it home, and nursed it back to health, only to have it try to peck my eyes out. I fight back and win the set. Surely I’ve withstood the only attack Pete can mount. He can’t possibly have anything left. But in the second set he’s even better. And in the third he’s a freak.”
Sampras, who crushed 14 aces, including one down the T on match point, was simply too good for Agassi. He earned 17 break points in the match, converting five as he went on to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in two hours and 15 minutes.
"I feel a lot better now," Sampras said. "As the match wore on, the adrenaline started kicking in and I started to think I could win when the chips are down. That sort of showed me I've got guts."
Agassi was a good sport about the situation, even if he was disappointed about losing the championship.
"It's not about winning the tournament, it's about taking pride in what you do," Agassi said, according to the New York Times. "If I couldn't beat Pete healthy, I didn't deserve to win the tournament, and whether sick or well, he played a great match."
Agassi later that year won his first US Open title, and he’d climb to a career-high World No. 2, before ascending to No. 1 in 1995.
Tournament Founder Butch Bucholz told ATPTour.com, “Delaying the final showed the great character of Andre Agassi. He didn’t want to win the tournament that way, by walkover. Pete’s doctor said if we get some IVs into him, he’ll be okay in a few hours.
"We were just happy to have a match. Pete told us he didn’t think he’d be able to play on Sunday morning. We said, ‘If we got a doctor, and if the doctor can get you to a point where you can play, would you?’ Andre then agreed to delay the match. Andre beat him the next year in a third set tie-break, which was a great match.”
It was the first and only time Sampras would win the ‘Sunshine Double’ — lifting the trophy in Indian Wells and Miami in the same year — and he’d go on to win a personal-best 10 tour-level titles that year. Sampras finished atop the 1994 year-end FedEx ATP Rankings, marking the second of six consecutive World No. 1 finishes.
"I would have done the same thing for him if he'd been in the same boat," Sampras said of Agassi’s gesture.