Match Stats/Report - Kuerten vs Sampras, Year End Championship semi-final, 2000


Hall of Fame
Gustavo Kuerten beat Pete Sampras 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4 in the Year End Championship semi-final, 2000 on indoor hard court in Lisbon, Portugal

Kuerten would go onto beat Andre Agassi in the final to claim his first indoor title and claim the year end number 1 position. Kuerten was the French Open champion, Sampras was the defending champion and reigning Wimbledon winner

Kuerten won 111 points, Sampras 104

Sampras serve-volleyed off all first serves and all but 5 seconds

Serve Stats
- 1st serve percentage (73/115) 63%
- 1st serve points won (51/73) 70%
- 2nd serve points won (24/42) 57%
- Aces 13, Service Winners 3
- Double Faults 3
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (36/115) 31%

- 1st serve percentage (61/100) 61%
- 1st serve points won (47/61) 77%
- 2nd serve points won (16/39) 41%
- Aces 10, Service Winners 2
- Double Faults 5
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (38/100) 38%

Serve Patterns
Kuerten served...
- to FH 24%
- to BH 70%
- to Body 6%

Sampras served....
- to FH 53%
- to BH 47%

Return Stats
Kuerten made...
- 57 (28 FH, 29 BH)
- 5 Winners (3 FH, 2 BH)
- 26 Errors, all forced...
- 26 Forced (15 FH, 11 BH)
- Return Rate (57/95) 60%

Sampras made...
- 76 (15 FH, 61 BH), including 1 runaround FHs & 2 return-approaches
- 3 Winner (1 FH, 2 BH)
- 20 Errors, comprising...
- 9 Unforced (9 BH)
- 11 Forced (4 FH, 7 BH)
- Return Rate (76/112) 68%

Break Points
Kuerten 3/5 (4 games)
Sampras 1/10 (4 games)

Winners (including returns, excluding serves)
Kuerten 32 (12 FH, 12 BH, 4 FHV, 4 BHV)
Sampras 33 (9 FH, 7 BH, 1 FHV, 1 FH1/2V, 7 BHV, 1 BH1/2V, 2 OH)

Kuerten had 14 passes (5 FH, 9 BH)
- FHs - 4 cc (2 returns) and 1 dtl return
- BHs 9 - 3 cc (1 return), 1 dtl, 4 inside out and 1 inside-out/dtl,

- regular FHs - 5 inside-out and 2 drop shots (1 at net, 1 inside-out)
- regular BHs - 2 cc (1 at net), 1 dtl return.... the cc at net was hit as at the extremist of angles, almost parallel to the net. technically, its a drop shot though I wouldn't call it one, or even think of it as cc

- 2 BHVs were first volleys off serve-volley points and 1 other BHV was a drop

Sampras had from serve-volley points
- 10 first 'volleys' (2 FHV, 1 FH1/2V, 5 BHV, 1 BH1/2V, 1 FH at net)
- 5 second volleys (2 FHV, 1 BHV, 2 OH)

- 2 return-approach points (1 FHV, 1 BHV)

- FHs - 3 cc (2 passes, 1 return), 4 dtl (3 passes - 1 of them a running-down-drop-volley at net) and 1 inside-out pass
- BHs - 2 cc (1 pass), 3 dtl, 1 inside-in return and 1 net chord dribbler return

Errors (excluding serves and returns)
Kuerten 30
- 18 Unforced (6 FH, 11 BH, 1 FHV)
- 12 Forced (4 FH, 6 BH, 1 FHV, 1 BHV)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 50.6

Sampras 38
- 17 Unforced (4 FH, 9 BH, 1 FHV, 2 BHV, 1 OH)
- 21 Forced (6 FH, 3 BH, 4 FH1/2V, 7 BHV, 1 BH1/2V)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 48.8

(Note 1: All 1/2 volleys refer to such shots played at net. 1/2 volleys played from other parts of the court are included within relevant groundstroke numbers)

(Note 2: the Unforced Error Forcefulness Index is an indicator of how aggressive the average UE was. The numbers presented for these two matches are keyed on 4 categories - 20 defensive, 40 neutral, 50 attacking and 60 winner attempt)

Net Points & Serve-Volley
Kuerten was...
- 16/27 (59%) at net, including...
- 5/6 (83%) serve-volleying, all 1st serves

Sampras was...
- 53/85 (62%) at net, including...
- 49/78 (63%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 35/49 (71%) off 1st serve and...
- 14/29 (48%) off 2nd serve
- 2/2 return-approaching
- 1/1 forced back

Match Report
Tremendous performance from Gustavo Kuerten against a Sampras who plays well. Key factors are clutch, Kuerten's returning & passing and Sampras' return. There's not a thing Kuerten doesn't do well, Sampras' returning of second serves leaves something to be desired

To start with, have a look at the break points stats -

Kuerten 3/5 (4 games)
Sampras 1/10 (4 games)

Not the sort of thing you usually see with Sampras - and its entirely down to Kuerten clutching (both in saving Sampras' break points and making his own). No question of choking from Sampras here

Serve & Return
Sampras serve-volleying vs Kuerten returning from far back is a wonderful contest. And is something I've long been interested

Virtually nobody returned Sampras well in an absolute sense... tons of return errors and soft returns that were commandingly dealt with at net. Why not step back, take some extra time to look at the serve and hit the return? What do you have to lose, given returning from orthodox position almost never works well? But almost nobody ever did. A backward returning position though is one of the features of Kuerten's game and he uses it here. To very good effect

Both advantages and disadvantages of Kuerten's method are on show. Sampras exploits the greater scope for angles with serves out wide (some of them relatively slow) and is in an even more advantageous position than usual on his first volley (to be more specific, Kuerten is in a more dis-advantageous position yards behind the baseline). But more balls come back - including the ones hit out wide sharply. Note the 12 forecourt FEs for Sampras - especially, that 5/12 of those are 1/2 volleys. They're not all against returns, but a good chunk are. And the 4 passing return winners - FH cc to serve out wide to deuce court is the epicentre of the battle. Kuerten spanks the ones he can get his hands on, and the ones he can't drag him feet outside the court.

Needless to say that Sampras serves well. He does throw in more slower serves and kickers than usual, probably in response to Guga's positioning. And Gugu returns splendidly... its not like anybody returning from far back can do it. Good long swings and decent hits on the ball.

Note Sampras serving 53% to FH, 47% to BH. Guga might be the only 1 handed BH'er against who that's a sensible distribution to. Little difference in how strongly he returns across wings... the FHs take the eye more I would say (possibly because its unusual for a player to hit back equally hard off both wings and not because its stronger than the BH in an absolute sense)

Well as he returns the first serve, Guga's even better against the second (Sampras stays back on only 5 serves all match - all of them seconds). Just 41% second serve points won from Pete and 48% second serve-volley points (basically, second serve points sans double faults in other words). Pete does ease up second serves - he's not looking to in effect serve 2 first serves as he was sometimes wont - but its still a healthy, strong serve. Credit to both in this match up, especially Guga on the return

The Guga serve vs Sampras battle is just as interesting. Guga doesn't serve up the storm he would in the final against Agassi (which was ridiculously good), but serves strongly enough. And Sampras, slightly surprisingly, returns the first serve very well.

My memory of Sampras round about this period was that his return and return game had gone to rot and he could barely get decent serves back in play. Commentators suggest this isn't far off - according to them, Sampras was breaking in 19% of his return games for the year, the same as players like Mark Philippousiss and a they mention a couple of others. In a nutshell, it seems Sampras wasn't much of a threat on return during the period

But he does good job against the first serve. On the FH, he can still pack a wallop (not that he gets much chance. Gugu only serves there 24% of the time - wisely). On the BH, he tends to slice the ball back, usually taking it early. Not aggressive by any means, but he gets a large chunk of balls back to start rallies neutral or near it

Its against the second serve Sampras has a problem. To start with, Gugu has a very good second serve. In the first set in particular, he directs a lot of them to the body. Second serves to the body are as often as not just very safe serves, the point being to get it in play rather than aim at the body... but Guga's is a bit more than that. Clearly and obviously directed at the body, for the specific reason people serve there for their advantage

Good second serves, yes, but they're still very much second serves and attackable. But not for Pete. He tries taking big cuts, tries taking them extra early, tries extra early big cuts, 1 or 2 he was probably trying to come in off... his aggressive attempts almost always end with him missing the return. Note the high 9 UEs. And attacking second serves returning orthodoxly is a difficult business on this slow court - well beyond Pete. He doesn't try

So Guga wins 57% second serve points, to Pete's 41% - a very clear demonstration of superiority from Guga, but even that's a bit strange. Because Sampras actually plays well from the baseline


Hall of Fame
Play - Baseline
Almost all of this comes on Guga's serve and you'd expect him to have a healthy advantage. He does, but not all that healthy. Primarily credit to Guga's baseline showing with the caveat that I thought Sampras was a bit off in his approach

Slow court, Guga vs Pete... I'd expect Guga to look to outlast Sampras and bleed error out of him. That doesn't happen. Note the groundstroke UEs - Kuerten 17, Sampras 13 (on the BH, its Guga 11, Pete 11)

On the FH, Sampras has a great day (with the exception of the running shot, more on that later). His movements at their sleek best and he hammers FHs while making very few errors (just 4, the lowest of the 4 groundstrokes on show)

On the BH, not only does Sampras not bleed errors, he's probably the more damaging too. Note the 3 dtl baseline-to-baseline winners (Guga has 0 surprisingly)

How does Guga win this? 2 factors going for him and 2 against Sampras

- he's got a meaty 31% unreturned serves, including 13 aces and 2 service winners (Sampras has 10 and 2 respectively)

- his net instincts are superb, coming in just when he needs to. 27 trips to the net, winning 59%... which is kept that low by Sampras passing very well

- I think Sampras errs in not seeking net more in rallies (and off the second serve return). Sans serve-volley and return-approaches, he only comes in 5 times (and couple of those are on his rare second serve points he stayed back on). He shows no interest in trying to find the net in return games. Guga hits heavy, passes even better than Sampras and it wouldn't be easy coming in to him (or dealing with what comes next if one did)… but just 5 approaches (and only 3 on return) from rallies isn't he best of ways to go about business against such a tough baseliner

Especially in light of Sampras having gone full on serve-volleyer and his natural tendency to want to keep points short and save energy, the disinclination to come in is a bit odd
Same thing for chip-charge approaching... against a good second serve, not easy, but worth more of a shot than 2 attempts (both of which he wins) and when other types of attacking returns were falling at the first hurdle (couldn't even get the return in play). A small blackmark against Sampras' strategy here

- Sampras' failed 'FH trap'. A common dynamic of Pete Sampras' matches is him hanging over to the BH side of the court, hitting passive loopy BHs, seemingly daring his opponent to try to finish him of BH dtl where Sampras can pounce with his running FH

He does that here... and it fails. Most of Sampras' 6 FH FEs are such shots. I don't think he wins a single point where he hits one (certainly doesn't hit any winners).

Its a common play of his, so no fault in the thinking. Just doesn't come off this day

This trap is generally misremembered and misunderstood. No good, let alone great baseliner, uses running FH as a primary weapon. You hit running FHs when you have to, you don't orchestrate situations when you'll definatley have to and expect to win bulk of points

Sampras could get away with it in general because he was mostly doing it in return games and had nothing to lose (he held serve on back of serve-volleying - completely in this match and in this period). Miss 3, make 1 works in that situation but I'd estimate that to be about his mode success rate with the shot. To read articles about it, you'd think he was making 60%... this was never the case and I'm sure having near 0 success with the shot wasn't all that rare over a given match (like this one) either

In conjunction with the error breakdown, the UEFI indicates how good the baseline play was. Kuerten's 50.6 is remarkably high for considering just 1 error was a volley. 8/18 of his are winner attempts and 7 are neutral... this mostly indicates he was barely missing a any routine balls. Sampras' figure is pulled down with 1 defensive shot (scored a 20) but he also has very low routine misses (4). Solid stuff from both from the baseline

Play - Net & Passes
Great passing by both and good volleying

Guga comes forward with great instinct - good as any natural volleyer and in fact, better than Sampras' in this match - but faces terrific passing shots most of the match to keep him down to winning 'just' 59% at net

Sampras has a loose spell in the forecourt in the first set, which he goes onto win of course. After that, no easy misses and good volleys to anything not-difficult to easy. He faces an even tougher lot of passing shots though and it gets to him

Lots of 1/2volleys for Sampras to make. In the US Open final against Marat Safin, this was also the case and most were flat bullets to his feet around the service line.
Here, they're mostly firmly struck dippers further forward. Kuerten was hitting his shots from further back than Safin would have been and hits with much heavier top spin

These 1/2volleys are relatively simple (given that no 1/2volley is). Most aren't too powerful - but powerful enough that falling back to hit a groundstroke aren't an option. I suppose on his best day, Pete might have hit them better. When he doesn't make errors, he gets them over defensively and Kuerten is able to line up a strong pass (on which he rarely falters). Also a couple of 1/2volley winners - 1 of each side... all credit to Kuerten for the passing. You know your in serious trouble when 'not hitting half-volleys as well as possible' is one of the major drawbacks of your showing

Good stuff from both - primarily Guga on the pass, but Sampras is strong at net too

Match Progression
Sampras breaks at the start to open up a 3 love lead, with Kuerten double faulting twice from 30-30. He gives back the break in a poor game - 2 doubles to take the game (and a forced volleying error) take the game to deuce and then Sampras makes two groan eliciting volley misses. He's down break point again next game, missing another easy volley and a horror OH and Kuerten knocking back some excellent passes too, but holds on. One game away from the tiebreak, Sampras makes his play and has 3 break points in a 16 point game, but Kuerten invariably lands a big serve on them and finally holds, wrapping up with an ace and a serve-volley forced return error.

Great tiebreak. of the 12 points, there are 9 winners (the rest are a service winner, a forced return error of s/v point and a 1/2volley FE)

Kuerten breaks to go ahead 3 love in the second set and this ones all down to him. He whacks to FH return passing winners (1 cc, 1 dtl) and forces a 1/2volley and volley error to break to 30. Easy holds for the rest of the set - Kuerten's slightly easier. As he serves out the set, Sampras loses a point netting an attempted drop shot, a shot he almost never played

Third set opens with a bang. Sampras saves 2 break points with unreturned serves (1 ace) in the opening game, then reaches 0-40 returning. 2 break points are saved with serves (1 angled wide, 1 particularly powerful) and another by a mid-court 3rd ball FH inside-out winner. Kuerten saves another break point later in the game with a 3rd ball swinging FHV winner, set up by a strong serve

Easy holds from there til the decisive 9th game and again, its all Guga. 2 forced 1/2volley errors and 2 BH pass winners (1 cc, 1 inside-out from mid-court set up by forcing a weak 1/2volley) leave Kuerten saving for the match

It turns out to be a difficult hold. A lucky, net chord dribbling return winner gives Sampras two break points and again, Kuerten rises to the occasion. First, he draws a weak return and puts away a third ball FH inside-out from mid court (again). They get into a rally next point with Guga in charge. As Guga approaches, a Sampras ball catches the net and falls over. Guga puts it away for a BH winner virtually parallel to the net. And then wraps things up with 2 big serves - a service winner and an ace

Summing up, a great match with high quality play from both. Guga is just a little bit better - both when it counts, and when it doesn't

Stats for the final between Guga and Agassi -

Generally speaking, random achievements like beating two big name players in succession are usually overrated. These two wins of Guga, as far as I've seen, are the opposite. He's brilliant in basically thrashing Sampras and Agassi (especially the latter) back to back - fantastic stuff

Moose Malloy

I posted about Kuerten's clutch serving in kosero's thread about first serves under pressure. He made first serves on 8 of 10 break points.

There's a great site with player interviews after every match at this event. Here was what Sampras said

He talks about how tough it is to serve vs Kuerten because he stands far back and returns well. Many here talk about how useless Nadal would be in that era because how far back he stands, but I've never been sure about that considering Kuerten. Their match in Miami that year was also pretty exciting.