Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were very familiar with one another from an early age. In 1980 when Sampras was 9 and Agassi 10, both were undersized, talented tennis kids when the met for the first time. Fast forward 10 years later and the two Americans were facing each other in the 1990 US Open Finals.
Agassi’s popularity was on the rise and the Canon “Image is everything” ad campaign was running constantly. He transcended tennis and had plenty of non-tennis fans anticipating his first Grand Slam win. Overlooked was Pete Sampras, the younger upstart who had an up and down year up to that point. But the lanky 19 year old who was sporting the “archer” Sergio Tachhini top and matching sneakers was having a really good tournament. On the road to the finals he beat 6th ranked Thomas Muster and broke Ivan Lendl’s streak of eight consecutive US Open finals. He also beat John McEnroe in the semi-finals, the man whose attitude and persona he tried not to be like.
Agassi’s path was not an easy one, even with his big victory being over Boris Becker in the semis. But his fashion statement was the popular headline. Nike and Agassi moved past the popular Air Tech Challenge II and it was the summer of the Air Tech Challenge III. With the neon and emerald original colorway of the model came matching accessories. The neon Challenge Court tennis ball logo was seen on everything from tennis bags to posters, but most can never forget the denim and lycra shorts combo. That, with the matching headband, and Agassi’s star was glowing.
However, the younger Pete Sampras didn’t let the bright lights of New York or Agassi’s gear blind him from his goal. With his fast and accurate serve in top form along with his smooth ground strokes he gave Agassi a butt-kicking, winning 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. The two players would go on to have some amazing matches at the height of American tennis, but this first Grand Slam Final meeting was a one-sided affair. Quite possibly this matchup of polar opposites is why Nike would go on to snatch up Sampras and play off their rivalry for years. All I know is that 25 years ago was the start of a great time to be a tennis — especially an American tennis — fan.