Match Stats/Report - Sampras vs McEnroe, US Open semi-final, 1990


Hall of Fame
Pete Sampras beat John McEnroe 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in the US Open semi-final, 1990 on hard court

Sampras would go onto beat Andre Agassi in the final to win his first Slam title. He was 19 years old and became the youngest player ever to win the US Open. McEnroe was unseeded and this would turn out to be his last semi at the event

Sampras won 121 points, McEnroe 103

Sampras serve-volleyed off all but 1 first serve and occasionally off seconds. McEnroe serve-volleyed off all serves but 3 seconds

Serve Stats
- 1st serve percentage (60/108) 56%
- 1st serve points won (50/60) 83%
- 2nd serve points won (26/48) 54%
- Aces 16 (2 second serves), Service Winners 4
- Double Faults 5
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (41/108) 38%

- 1st serve percentage (73/116) 63%
- 1st serve points won (50/73) 68%
- 2nd serve points won (21/43) 49%
- Aces 15
- Double Faults 8
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (42/116) 36%

Serve Patterns
Sampras served...
- to FH 31%
- to BH 61%
- to Body 8%

McEnroe served...
- to FH 33%
- to BH 56%
- to Body 11%

Return Stats
Sampras made...
- 66 (23 FH, 43 BH), including 4 return-approaches
- 16 Winners (4 FH, 12 BH)
- 27 Errors, comprising...
- 1 Unforced (1 FH)
- 26 Forced (7 FH, 19 BH)
- Return Rate (66/108) 61%

McEnroe made...
- 62 (20 FH, 42 BH), including 1 runaround FH & 17 return-approaches
- 2 Winners (2 BH)
- 21 Errors, comprising...
- 4 Unforced (1 FH, 3 BH), including 1 return-approach attempt
- 17 Forced (5 FH, 12 BH)
- Return Rate (62/103) 60%

Break Points
Sampras 5/15 (6 games)
McEnroe 2/6 (4 games)

Winners (including returns, excluding serves)
Sampras 42 (10 FH, 18 BH, 5 FHV, 3 BHV, 5 OH, 1 BHOH)
McEnroe 23 (5 FH, 5 BH, 6 FHV, 6 BHV, 1 OH)

Sampras had 12 from serve-volley points
- 5 first 'volleys' (1 FHV, 1 BHV, 2 OH, 1 FH at net)
- 6 second volleys (3 FHV, 2 BHV, 1 BHOH)
- 1 third volley (1 OH)

- 16 returns (4 FH, 12 BH), all passes
- FHs - 1 cc and 1 inside-out and 2 inside-in
- BHs - 2 cc, 1 cc/longline (that McEnroe left), 2 dtl and 7 inside-in

- regular FHs (all passes) - 3 cc, 1 dtl/inside-out and 1 running-down-drop-volley cc at net
- regular BHs (all passes) - 5 dtl and 1 running-down-drop-volley cc at net

McEnroe had 10 from serve-volley points
- 6 first volleys (5 FHV, 1 BHV)
- 4 second volleys (1 FHV, 2 BHV, 1 OH)

- 4 from return-approach points (3 BHV, 1 BH at net)... the BH at net was also a pass

- FHs (all passes) - 3 cc, 1 dtl/inside-out at net and 1 inside-out
- BHs (all passes) - 2 cc, 1 dtl return and 1 inside-out return

Errors (excluding serves and returns)
Sampras 33
- 10 Unforced (2 FH, 3 BH, 2 FHV, 3 BHV)... with 1 FH at net
- 23 Forced (7 FH, 13 BH, 2 FHV, 1 BHV)... with 1 FH at net & 1 BH at net
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 54

McEnroe 30
- 12 Unforced (3 FH, 5 FHV, 3 BHV, 1 OH)... with 1 FH at net
- 18 Forced (3 FH, 8 BH, 6 FHV, 1 BHV)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 51.7

(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
Sampras was...
- 45/67 (67%) at net, including...
- 33/49 (67%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 31/41 (76%) off 1st serve and...
- 2/8 (25%) off 2nd serve
- 1/4 (25%) return-approaching
- 1/1 retreated

McEnroe was...
- 64/109 (59%) at net, including...
- 55/90 (61%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 35/58 (60%) off 1st serve and...
- 20/32 (63%) off 2nd serve
- 8/17 (47%) return-approaching

Match Report
Outstanding performance from Sampras, especially the returning against a virtually 100% serve-volleying opponent. Mac plays well too - serve-volleying efficiently though left helpless by precise, powerful returns regularly - and somehow managing to return-approach well enough to gain some counter-play against what would otherwise be the overwhelmingly strong serve game of Sampras

Pete's serve games are breezy to the extent of making match look easier than it is. In numbers, 54% 2nd serve points won while serving at 56% isn't completely secure. Mac breaks twice and has break points in 2 other games, which is a good outcome against such quality opposition. Meanwhile, Mac's 49% 2nd serve points won serving at large 63% is decent. Potentially match winning even. Unreturned serves are near even (Pete +2%), as are aces (Pete +1). So why does match look so one sided?

Sampras has 16 return winners. How often does Pete Sampras have as many return winners as aces? That alone would him get him the breaks he needs. The pressure it puts on Mac also leads to 8 double faults, understandable in light of what was happening to weak serves

Its a 2 part match. 1st half, Sampras crushes Mac. 2nd half, play is roughly even, with Pete always looking the more in command of his serve and likely to break


Hall of Fame
Serve, Return & Action
Pete serve-volleys off all but 1 first serve and 20% off the time off 2nds. Mac does so virtually always, staying back 3 times total (all of them 2nd serves)

Huge serving from Sampras and there's little Mac can do about the 16 aces and 4 service winners that rain down. Other 1st serves draw return errors or weak returns that Pete can completely command his 1st volley off

2nd serves are very strong too and would make decent 1st serves. Odd stat off match is Pete winning just 2/8 2nd serve-volley points. The serve looks good enough to dominate serve-volleying behind. Not that it matters because Pete wins more than enough staying back (24/40 or 60%) even with double faults included. And a good job of keeping double faults to just 5, serving so big. Lots of 2nd serves right on the service line

Creative and proactively smart returning from McEnroe, given the extent to which he's overpowered. Against 1st serves, when he can return the ball he does so feebly. Even 2nd serves come down heavy enough that he'd be unlikely to get a firm return back. He counters by chip-charging returns or pushing return back very early. Pete retains control of 3rd ball from baseline or has good looks on the pass (Mac's chip-charges are just lifted over the net somehow - junk approach, basically). He experiments with return position, ranging from taking 1st serves with a foot on baseline to returning from well back. He takes 2nd serve from inside court

Its best he can do, but nowhere near good enough. 60% return rate while leaving Sampras in charge of 3rd ball is a formula for server dominating

Good serving from Mac too. His serving during this period tended to be regulation stuff, rarely swinging opponent out wide. Here, he hits his spots as 15 aces testify to, when he goes wide. When he doesn't, Pete's returning is first class

16 return winners speaks for itself and comes about via combination of power and placement. Sampras otherwise returns firmly down middle of court. Its hard hit enough to make it likely he'll draw some number of first volley UEs. Fair few powerful returns too that Mac is mostly able to control

Mac's quite efficient on the volley, placing ball away from Pete or dropping it for winners. He has to be good because Pete's passing is again, hard hit and powerful. On top of the return-winners, Sampras excels at drawing weak first volley and blasting the pass off it. He's no slouch on difficult running passes either. Against Mac's not-strong chip-charge returns, Pete hammers passes hard enough to be testing even when not placed wide

Little baseline-to-baseline action. Pete hits firmly, Mac is feeble off shot. Mac's only able to come to net twice from rallying. Pete hammers groundies while remaining secure (4 UEs to Mac's 3) and isn't slow to capitilize on it by coming to net to finish, winning 11/14 from that position. Mac rarely gets a good pass off, which is in line with what the look of his groundies would promise

Match Progression
Action of 1st 2 sets is Sampras dominating on serve and regularly blasting return winners to threaten on return

Good start from McEnroe, who holds to 15, wrapping up with pair of aces and then pushes Sampras to 10 points in next game (a double fault and pair of Pete volleying UEs). He doesn't win another return point in the set after the game as Sampras makes 10/12 first serves. It comes amidst a run of Sampras winning 24 straight first serves points

Meanwhile, Pete takes to striking return winners for fun. There are 5 in 3 remaining return games of the set and 6 more in the second. Placement and power and perfectly blended in Sampras' return-winners. Mac serves his own share of aces, but anything that can be reached is usually hit firmly and wide

Though there are there 2 winners from Sampras and he strongly forces a volleying error, the first break is due mostly to Mac hitting mediocre volleys to balls that were there to be putaway. Second break though is all Pete, who hits 3 more passing winners (2 returns)

In 2nd set, Mac takes to return-approaching. Its very difficult again big second serves and Pete serve-volleying behind some of it, but manages some success. Mac survives a 12 point hold where Pete hits 5 return-winners. The break comes soon after (2 passing winners, 2 forced volleying errors)

There's plenty of Mac tantrums. He gets a warning for delay of game for dawdling after a changeover and has much to say about deep Pete's serves being called in. They all are in. It probably does work to intimidate linespeople. One woman he'd given a hard time calls a Sampras ace that was well in, wide couple of points later. Umpire also gives Mac a first serve due to Cyclops machine going off early. It went off around when Mac's serve bounced and there's no possible question of it having distracted him during the serve. Mac continues arguing close calls for rest of match, without much success. If its a deliberate tactic, its not ineffective, here or in general. He himself never seems to lose concentration, his opponents often do and linespeople tend to err on his side after a few tantrums

Action changes after 2nd set to more typical. Pete continues to take care of his service games, but isn't unduly threatening on return. His return rate remains about the same, but usually yields regulation volleys that Mac handles efficiently. Couple of good passes from Mac gives him the break in the third set. Sampras breaks once in fourth set, appropriately finishing with BH cc return pass winner and its enough to get the win

Summing up, strong showing from Sampras - overpowering serves, efficient volleying, powerful passing and most of all, clean hit precise returns. McEnroe takes care of his serve skilfully too other than when the returns are just good and does well to get what little counter-play he can returning, but Sampras remains categorically better in almost all areas

Stats for Sampras' quarter-final with Ivan Lendl -
Stats for the other semi between Andre Agassi and Boris Becker -
Stats for pair's '91 Philadelphia semi -


The match that answered the question that had been asked for every years since 1985: "Where are the next great American serve and volley players?" This was one of the most obvious, "shot heard around the world" matches since Becker's astounding breakthrough at 1985's Wimbledon. A true changing of the guard match--and it should have sent shivers throughout Agassi's body, as he was never going to be the top American in this generation with Sampras on the scene.