Pete Sampras sent a message to the tennis world in winning the Davis Cup final for the United States almost all by himself: He's no pigeon on clay.

The serve-and-volley king mixed power with patience in mastering the red clay installed in Olympic Stadium to thwart him, capturing three weekend matches in the Americans' 3-2 victory over Russia.The best came last: a brilliant 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) victory over top Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov to give the United States an insurmountable 3-1 lead Sunday to clinch the cup. It capped a year for Sampras that included titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open and nearly $5 million in prize money.

"Certainly to come here to Moscow to play on my worst surface against tough opponents and a very tough crowd . . . Today was probably the best clay-court match I've played," the world's top-ranked player said.

The weekend began with drama - Sampras carried off with painful leg cramps after surviving a five-set duel with Andrei Chesnokov - and ended as much with relief as elation when the Americans won their first Davis Cup title since 1992.

There were hugs but no wild celebrations after Sampras smoked an ace at match point. He admitted that while it was "a great win for the team," the thrill of winning America's 31st cup didn't compare with a Grand Slam title.

But emotions welled up later when both Sampras and U.S. captain Tom Gullikson reflected on the victory's significance at a time when Tim Gullikson, Sampras' coach and Tom's brother, is stricken with brain cancer.