After winning eight ATP titles in 1996, world no. 1 Pete Sampras was on a strong run in 1997 as well, kicking off the season with crowns at the Australian Open, San Jose and Philadelphia. Outside the semi-final in Miami, the results were not that good in the next three and a half months, struggling to find the form on clay and waiting for the beloved Wimbledon to show his skills once in the cathedral of tennis.
Facing the rivals from outside the top-35 in the semi-final and the final, Sampras toppled Todd Woodbridge and Cedric Pioline to regain the crown he lost in 1996, taking a deserved month off and returning in Cincinnati, halted in the quarter-final there in the previous two years and chasing the first trophy since 1992 when he defeated Ivan Lendl.
Carried by that Wimbledon success, the American was the player to beat in Ohio, losing serve three times in five encounters and toppling four top-20 opponents to lift the ninth Masters 1000 trophy, the first since Indian Wells two and a half years ago.
Justin Gimelstob was his first and lowest-ranked opponent, with Sampras scoring a 6-2, 6-4 victory to set the second-round clash with Patrick Rafter that he won 7-6, 6-4 to reach the quarters. World no. 6 Yevgeny Kafelnikov stood no chance there, winning only 14 points on the return and suffering two breaks in each set to propel Pete into the semis where he toppled Albert Costa 6-3, 6-4 in 64 minutes for the place in the 63rd ATP final.
There, Sampras ousted Thomas Muster 6-3, 6-4 in 70 minutes for the 49th ATP title, playing well on both serve and return to cross the finish line in style and extend the winning streak. Muster battled through a favorable draw to advance into the final, beating four rivals in three sets and moving into the 54th and the penultimate ATP final, the tenth at the Masters 1000 level.
It was the ninth meeting between Pete and Thomas on the Tour and the eighth victory for the American who hit more than 30 winners and left the Austrian on around ten, with a similar number of forced and unforced errors. Sampras had the advantage in the shortest and mid-range exchanges, losing the upper hand in the opener before seizing it again and never looking back in set number two to emerge as a deserved champion.
The home favorite kicked off the match with a service winner and broke Muster in the very next game after a backhand error from the Austrian who had to chase the result already after a couple of minutes. Pete blasted an ace in game three to cement the lead before Muster pulled the break back in game seven after a backhand crosscourt winner, delivering only the fifth break of Pete Sampras’ serve since the beginning of Wimbledon!
The American kept his focus, breaking at love in the next game with a volley winner and sealing the opener with two winners at 30-30 in game nine for a 6-3 in just over half an hour. The Austrian fended off a break point in the third game of the second set and stayed in touch until 3-3 when Pete broke at 15 following a backhand error from his opponent to gain the crucial lead and put one hand on the trophy.
The American confirmed the break with three service winners that sent him 5-3 up, moving over the top with four winners in game ten for the second title in Cincinnati.