Match Stats/Report - Rafter vs Sampras, Cincinnati final, 1998


Hall of Fame
Pat Rafter beat Pete Sampras 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-4 in the Cincinnati final, 1998 on hard court

Rafter had recently won the Canadian Open and would go onto win the US Open shortly afterwards, beating Sampras in 5 sets along the way. The two would meet in the following years final also with Sampras winning

Rafter serve-volleyed off all but 1 first serve and most seconds. Sampras serve-volleyed off all first serves and more often than not off seconds

Rafter won 102 points, Sampras 105

Serve Stats
- 1st serve percentage (68/100) 68%
- 1st serve points won (46/68) 68%
- 2nd serve points won (19/32) 59%
- Aces 9 (1 second serve)
- Double Faults 4
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (36/100) 36%

- 1st serve percentage (59/107) 55%
- 1st serve points won (44/59) 75%
- 2nd serve points won (26/48) 54%
- Aces 18 (1 not clean), Service Winners 2
- Double Faults 4
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (46/107) 43%

Serve Patterns
Rafter served...
- to FH 24%
- to BH 49%
- to Body 27%

Sampras served....
- to FH 40%
- to BH 50%
- to Body 10%

Return Stats
Rafter made...
- 57 (21 FH, 36 BH), including 3 return-approaches
- 4 Winners (3 FH, 1 BH)
- 26 Errors, comprising...
- 2 Unforced (2 BH)
- 24 Forced (10 FH, 14 BH), including 1 return-approach attempt
- Return Rate (57/103) 55%

Sampras made...
- 60 (14 FH, 46 BH), including 2 return-approaches
- 4 Winners (2 FH, 2 BH)
- 27 Errors, comprising...
- 2 Unforced (2 BH)
- 25 Forced (9 FH, 16 BH)
- Return Rate (60/96) 63%

Break Points
Rafter 1/7 (5 games)
Sampras 2/6 (5 games)

Winners (including returns, excluding serves)
Rafter 26 (7 FH, 6 BH, 4 FHV, 6 BHV, 2 OH, 1 BHOH)
Sampras 24 (9 FH, 5 BH, 2 FHV, 2 FH1/2V, 5 BHV, 1 OH)

Rafter had 12 from serve volley points -
- 8 first volleys (3 FHV, 4 BHV, 1 OH)
- 4 second volley (1 FHV, 1 BHV, 1 OH, 1 BHOH)

- 1 from a return-approach point, a BHV pass

- 13 passes - 4 returns (3 FH, 1 BH) & 9 regular (4 FH, 5 BH)
- FH returns - 2 cc and 1 inside-in
- BH return - 1 dtl
- FHs - 2 dtl and 2 running-down-drop-shot dtl at net
- BHs - 2 cc, 2 dtl and 1 lob

Sampras had 8 from serve volley points
- 4 first 'volleys' (1 FH1/2V, 2 BHV, 1 OH)... 1 BHV was a net chord dribbler
- 3 second volley (1 FHV, 2 BHV)... 1 BHV was a net chord dribbler
- 1 re-approach 'volley' (1 FH1/2V)

- 1 from a return-approach point, a FHV

- 13 passes - 4 returns (2 FH, 2 BH) & 9 regular (6 FH, 3 BH)
- FH returns - 2 inside-in
- BH returns - 1 inside-out and 1 longline/inside-out (that Rafter left)
- FHs - 1 cc, 3 dtl, 1 inside-out and 1 longline/cc
- BHs - 1 cc and 2 dtl

- 1 non-pass FH cc

Errors (excluding serves and returns)
Rafter 31
- 10 Unforced (2 FH, 1 BH, 4 FHV, 3 BHV)
- 21 Forced (3 FH, 9 BH, 1 FHV, 5 BHV, 1 BH1/2V, 1 OH, 1 BHOH)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 50

Sampras 36
- 15 Unforced (8 FH, 3 BH, 2 FHV, 2 BHV)... with 1 FH at net (that can reasonably be called a FH1/2V) & 3 BH at net
- 21 Forced (3 FH, 10 BH, 1 FH1/2V, 4 BHV, 3 BH1/2V).... with 2 BH running-down-drop-shot at net
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 52

(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
Rafter was...
- 56/86 (65%) at net, including...
- 50/79 (63%) serve-volleying, comprising..
- 38/59 (64%) off 1st serve and..
- 12/20 (60%) off 2nd
- 2/3 (67%) return-approaching
- 1/2 retreated

Sampras was...
- 43/75 (57%) at net, including...
- 38/64 (59%) serve-volleying, comprising..
- 24/39 (62%) off 1st serve and..
- 14/25 (56%) off 2nd
- 1/2 return-approaching

Match Report
Serve-volley match on a fast court with two of the best at that type of thing - and the match delivers in spades. Both are at their best and result comes down to a couple of spurts of brilliance by Rafter

Sampras has better of things overall due to blow out first set, that he sweeps through 6-1. Its as good a display of counter-serve-volleying tennis as you'll see and its two-shot tennis . Firm, wide returns leaves difficult volleys that Rafter either misses or does well to put in play. When the latter, Pete follows with whistle clean winning passes. Does well on the 'regulation' pass too (i.e. when Rafter's set up at net)

Next 2 sets though are both up in the air, hence, so is the match. With both playing superbly, question of who is better player doesn't really arise. Matters are likely to - and end up - coming down to odd point here and there. Though not enough to be decisive, Rafter is just a little bit better on the 'volley' (specifically including half-volleys and groundstroke at net)

Odd matter. At changeovers, Sampras has an electric fan right in his face to keep him comfortable in the heat. Rafter does not, and contents himself with a towel over his head. I can only imagine Rafter was offered but declined a fan for himself. It can't possibly be that one player was offered a fan and the other left to sweat it out, can it?

Serve, Return & Serve-Volley
Sampras serve-volleys 100% off first serves, Rafter off all but 1 serve (he loses the 1 exception point)

Off 2nd serve -
- serve-volley frequency - Rafter 74% of time, Sampras 57%
- winning rate serve-volleying - Rafter 60%, Sampras 56%
[- winning rate staying back (excluding double faults) - Rafter 6/7 or 86%, Sampras 12/19 or 63%.... more on that later]

Naturally, Pete has much bigger serve and has huge 20-9 lead in aces/service winners. Return errors drawn are virtually identical

- Return UEs - both 2 BHs
- Return FEs - Pete draws 24, Rafter 25... very similar across FHs and BHs too

.... the errors Pete draws are also a lot harder than the ones Rafter does. Most of Pete's second serves would qualify as forceful sans serve-volley (in fact, that's how he wins most of his stay-back points). No surprises there

Rafter's use of the body serve is outstanding. He's served very large 27% there - more than he has to the FH - and they're right on the line of the body, fast enough that Pete can't get out of the way. Early on, Pete strikes a rare, imprecise body serve for FH inside-in winner and in last game of match, manages to glide a BH inside-out for another winner (virtually the only inside-out he plays all match). Otherwise, Pete's trussed up like a turkey by the body serve; Either makes errors or fends ball back over high for Rafter to have his way with on the first volley

Court and Rafter are serve are quick enough to be challenging to return. Pete looks to do so firmly. In first set, he's spectacular and after that, normal and Rafter holds with reasonable comfort. Very good serving from Rafter, both first and second serves, especially the body serve

Which leaves the volley. And Rafter does a little better on it - even with the blowout first set included

Off first serve - Rafter wins 64%, Pete 62%
Off second serve - Rafter 60%, Pete 56%

And that's with having to play more volleys (Rafter serve-volleys total 79 times, Pete 64... with return errors virtually equal), and Pete's numbers bolstered by serves that would almost certainly have been unreturned sans serve-volley anyway (Rafter too, but to considerably lesser extent)

There's not a big difference in the kinds of returns the volleyer face first up. You might think Pete's left with high sitters and Rafter with net high stuff. Its not that drastic. Neither returner leaves many easy putaways. Pete's a little firmer in returning and returns at 63% to Rafter's 55% so prospects would favour Pete getting the easier volleys. Which he does, on whole, but not by much.

Most returns are around net high - not difficult to put in play, not necessarily easy to putaway - with the tougher ones a little lower. Pete tends to get returns slightly wide and net high too. The standout is Rafter getting returns in low. Not necessarily by design

Rafter gets the odd return to Pete's feet firmly (not too powerfully, not bullets to the feet stuff), as does Pete to Rafter more firmly. Roughly a wash on that end.

The part that isn't are Rafter's forced, stretch-&-hold-racquet-out returns (in other words, poke return in play anyway you can against very powerful serve) that catch Pete near the feet. Its a 'volley' every big serving serve-volleyer has to face because of strenght of their serve

Generally, Pete has top notch judgement in shot choice against these types of 'volleys' - electing to half-volley, or hold back and play groundstroke or come forward and play a shoelace volley. He's not bad here (he's got 2 FH1/2V winners - including a particularly beautiful, falling back slightly effort), but does get caught out now and then

'Volley' UEs - Rafter 7, Pete 8 (including 4 groundstrokes at net)
'Volley' FEs - Rafter 9, Pete 8 (including 4 half-volleys)

Again, with Rafter facing more volleys and typically facing harder hit passes and/or returns, the errors being even is win for Rafter. And exactly half of all Pete's 'volley' errors aren't actually volleys (and that's excluding 2 hopeless running-down-drop-volleys at net). They're tricky shots - including the UEs - with net rusher needing perfect judgement to decide just what shot to try and play - back-off groundstroke or come forward half-volley/shoelace volley

Pete rarely has doubts what shot to play, but makes errors on these types of plays
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Hall of Fame
In dealing with the staple, net high volley, Rafter swipes his away more decisively. Pete's not indecisive either. Its his norm to steer volleys rather than 'swipe' them away

All groundstroke FEs are passes, and again, 2 have very similar numbers

- FH FEs - both 3
- BH FEs - Rafter 9, Pete 10

... with Pete's FEs being more forced so to speak. A running pass against Rafter's swiped volleys is hopeless proposition. Pete's more steered volley leaves better passing chance (though not particularly good one)

And finally, the volley/OH winners

- Rafter 13, Pete 10

That's roughly in line with oppurtunies due to Pete leading unreturned serves

Putting it altogether, Rafter has clear advantage on the volley-pass complex. With large discrepancy in force of serve (due to Pete's being extreme) -

- Rafter should be facing more powerful and more regular passes to volley (and does. Slightly counter-balanced by Pete getting tricky ones low of poked back returns)

- With equal volleying but Rafter facing more powerful/regular passes, Pete should be hitting more winners or/and forcing more passing errors and Rafter should be making more volleying UEs (because he's facing more) and FEs (because he's facing more powerful ones)

Neither of the above happen because Rafter is that much better on the volley - putting the difficult ones in play or swiping away the ones that are swipe-able. And both are very good on the 'volley'

The numbers obviously go more in Rafter's favour sans the blow out first set, where Pete's return-passing is irresistible.

In nutshell, on the volley, great job by both players with Rafter a little bit better, especially in light of of handicap on the approach shot (i.e. the serve)

Baseline play
There is a small amount of playing starting on baseline. Staying back off 2nd serves -

Rafter's 6/7 or 86%, Sampras 12/19 or 63% (excluding double faults)

That includes unreturned serves and return-approaches and approaches. Its not significant, and most such points turn into net-points

Pete's FH misfiring is standout. When staying back, he goes for FH winner of third ball or plays neutral BHs

1 Winner, 7 UEs, 0 errors forced by Pete's FH baseline-to-baseline. Almost all errors are winner attempts, with rest being attacking shots. Generally, Pete's FH misses more than it makes attacking but this is particularly a 'miss day'. Rafter has 3 baseline-baseline UEs - that's all the UEs of that type for the match (rest are Pete's shots at net)

Rafter's 4/4 rallying to net, Pete is 4/9. Pete's figure is deceptive and includes hopeless approaches against Rafter's drop volleys

Pete's 2nd serve is like a good first serve and return FEs make up signficant portion of points he wins

Both players doing better staying back than coming in behind second serves

Rafter - serve-volleying 60%, staying back 86%
Sampras - 56% and 63%

In Rafter's case, the staying back is too small a number to draw conclusions about.

Pete's numbers are suggesting he's better off working his way to net than coming in behind the serve. 63% staying back is even higher than his first serve-volley points won of 62%, let alone second serve-volleying. Naturally, his 2nd serve-volleys face firmer returns or more firm returns to feet than firsts do that he's not overly confident in handling

By contrast, from back of court, he can play comfortable groundstroke and utilize power advantage to come in. It'd be a backward step as his 2nd serve is clearly good enough to come in behind and his preferred first line of play from back is to blast FHs, not look to come in from favourable position

Interesting implications, but not particularly important in match outcome

Match Progression
Scratchy first hold from Sampras (3 UEs and 2 net chord dribbling/pop over volley winners) where he has to save a break point, but he's on fire returning and passing

Smacks BH cc pass winner to open second game from even position, slaps FH inside-in return pass winner to a body serve to end it and forces a pair of second volley FEs in between

And that's a drop in the lake to the second break, where 4 strong wide returns elicits not strong to weak volleys that he dispatches for winners to break to love to move ahead 5-1

Sampras serves out in a deuce game. Some good from Rafter on the return - including return-approaching against a 1st serve to hit BHV winner net to net and forcing FH1/2V error to move ahead 0-30. He misses a 2nd serve return Pete stays back on after that and after a sumptuous re-approach FH1/2V winner, Pete power serves his way through. 6-1

Second set is a great set of tennis with 6 long games though no breaks (and in fact, few break points). Pete aces away break point in game 6.

Pete's best chance ot break is game 9, a 12 point game where Rafter double faults 3 times. Pete gets a bit too cute toying with Rafter - first drop volleying him in, then lob volleying him back and then, after a good Rafter retrieval, trying to drop volley a winner. Rafter runs it down comfortably and guides it over for winner. On his only break point, Pete offers no shot to a 2nd serve perilously close to the line. Its called an ace and after close inspection, Pete has no objection. In or out, what does he have to lose by offering a shot at the ball?

The last service game of the set is the longest at 16 points, and Pete saves 2 break points in it. Rafter has reasonable look at a pass that he nets on the first and the second is power served away

Some magic from Rafter gives him the tiebreak. He's upto making BHOH winner on first point and takes both return points at 3-2. Pete makes two difficult volleys on first point, but Rafter is in commanding position to make FH dtl pass after the second. And a return-pass FH cc winner. Rafter forces errors with body serves next 2 points to level match

Third set is same high quality - servers usually holding comfortably, but returners getting into the odd game. Rafter's trusted body serves saves 2 break points and he hits 2nd volley OH winner on another across 2 games. Pete aces away the only break point he faces to 4-4

Another top notch game from Rafer to gain the decisive break. Smacks away BH cc pass after drawing 1/2volley first point and edges his way to meet Sampras net-to-net on the second. Sampras throws up a very good lob volley, but Rafter on full stretch jump is able to hard BHOH it straight back at Pete, who can't handle the volley. On break point, Sampras hits a beautiful corner volley to a return under the net. Its one of his better volleys, but Rafter makes a full running, FH dtl pass to leave himself serving for match

Rafter's down 0-30 serving for match, after a perfect, glided BH inside-out return pass winner by Pete against the body serve and Rafter missing a near routine 2nd FHV. He wins the next 4 points to end it. On match point, his serve out wide is called out but instantly overruled by the Chair making it an ace. Sampras isn't a happy bunny about the overrule. Impossible to tell if ball was in or not from replays, but the Chair was in best position to judge and his call is instant. Sampras doens't seem to be questioning the validity of the call, just the decision to overrule. After the 2nd serve ace he'd let go by earlier, he carefully inspected the line. Doesn't do that here. Most likely, ball was in and Sampras knew that it was

Summing up, top class serve-volley match with both players at top of their games. Sampras' is unstoppable on the return-pass in first set to sweep through it against a well-playing Rafter but remaining two sets are competitive with both players playing well

Rafter volleys a little bit better, particularly in how decisiveness of shot but also edging consistency and manages to get a few returns in low that test Sampras shot choices, and makes excellent use of the body serve. Sampras has the untouchably big serve and on whole, returns more comfortably and with more force. Minor differences in grand scheme - play remains even

Couple of spurts of brilliance from Rafter on return push the result his way

Stats for pair's '99 final - Match Stats/Report - Sampras vs Rafter, Cincinnati final, 1999 | Talk Tennis (