Sampras Heart - Greatness. -
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post #1 of 3 (permalink) Old 04-20-2007, 04:58 PM Thread Starter
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Sampras Heart - Greatness.

The Hindu - Sport.

Into the heart of greatness

An attitude of blasé indifference to sporting domination may rob people of their ability to appreciate athletic greatness, writes Nirmal Shekar

Sports events quite often help re-awaken our dimmed perceptions. So, it was a sort of Eureka moment for me on Monday night when it struck me — while watching the world champion hand out Sri Lanka a routine hiding — that the biggest surprise packet of this ICC World Cup was not Ireland or Bangladesh but Australia.

Yes, Australia, the same Australia that was almost written off after a series of defeats at the hands of England and then New Zealand a few weeks ahead of the World Cup; the same Australia that struggled to put together a decent bunch of willow and leather wielders in defence of a trophy it has owned for eight years; the same Australia that came into the event with more questions — Will Andrew Symonds get fit in time? Will the bowlers be up to it? — than answers.

Only unbeaten side

The one thing that many cricket people were sure in their minds about before the opening of this World Cup was this: there will be a new champion. Yet, a little over a month from then, as Ricky Ponting's men remain the only unbeaten side left in the competition as it heads towards the climactic week, we have once again begun to take Australia's supremacy for granted.

Australia whipped Sri Lanka? Oh, yes, you might have expected that, right? After all, the Lankans did not play their two best bowlers and the Aussies are the world champions, aren't they?

Whether we attempt to understand athletic greatness or not, many of us sport an attitude of blasé indifference and readily take sporting domination for granted — which, of course, means that in an indirect sort of way, we are denying greatness its due.

Now that the Aussies have stretched their unbeaten World Cup run to 26 matches, it may be appropriate to ask this question: What does it take to become the best, and then remain the best, match after match, week after week, in tournament after tournament?

Result of hard work

"Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place,'' wrote Lewis Caroll in Through the Looking Glass. The Australian cricketers know all about the hard yards that they have had to put in to stay where they are. So will Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.

In a world where it is very easy — and tempting — to settle for less, these are men who are consistently willing to pay the heavy price that needs to be paid to maintain stratospheric levels of achievement.

We are often prone to be unexcited about such things, dishing out clichés such as "rising to the occasion.'' But a moment's thought vis-à-vis the resources needed — mental and physical — to do this day after day would help us realise the mind-boggling mix of rare attributes that underpins such achievements.

Enjoyable lesson

As a student of sport, for me the most enjoyable lesson learnt in this World Cup was during the Australia-Ireland game. Take all the marquee heavyweight contests you want. Give me something like this any day. What a pleasure it was to watch the world champions clinically dismantle the cavorting Irishmen's game!

In sport, greatness is best reflected in the professionalism and skills that a team or an individual brings to the table when facing the minnows. This is quite the most astonishing aspect of athletic greatness, a quality that has often proved elusive to Team India.

These Aussies may yet be forced to part with the Cup next week, but that would hardly take away from the greatness they have achieved over eight long years. They have time and again displayed resilience and courage to wriggle out of tight situations and reassert their superiority.

A surprise

Seven years ago, at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, Pete Sampras, hobbled by a foot injury, did not hit a single ball in practice between match days. After he surprised everyone, including himself, by making the final — where Pat Rafter awaited him — he was asked how he managed the feat.

"You somehow have to find a way. If you can't do that at Wimbledon, where can you? This is the biggest of them all. You have to find a way,'' said the great man.

It is not a `way' you can find on Google-search, or even in an hour's strategy session with your coach. You have to try and find it in the depths of your own heart and mind.

A day later, Sampras did exactly that. Down a set and two mini-breaks in the second set tiebreak, Wimbledon's greatest champion went on to take his seventh title in eight years in the gloaming, shortly after 9 p.m. on that July Sunday evening.

It would be a shame if such greatness — as well as the brand patented by the Aussie cricketers — is seen as routine stuff. For, sport's greatest surprise, one that is truly worthy of celebration, may well be its lack of surprise — when, no matter what, the big winners win, win and win.
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post #2 of 3 (permalink) Old 04-24-2007, 05:19 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Sampras Heart - Greatness.

From the Heart

Woods still has the desire, but how long will it last?

Pete Sampras officially walked away on Monday night, bringing closure to one of the greatest careers in tennis history. In an emotional tribute at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, the winner of 14 grand slam titles fought back the tears and told the world, "Saying goodbye is not easy, but I know it's time in my heart." He had the movie star wife, the nine-month-old son to raise as his trophy, and the words of John McEnroe to bid him farewell. "Pete, we respect you," said Johnny Mac. "And that's the highest tribute you can pay a player."

Of course we all respect Tiger Woods -- players, media, fans -- especially now that the putts aren't falling, the breaks aren't going his way, and the driver isn't behaving. But seeing Sampras go out like that, at age 32, after 15 years of banging heads with McEnroe, Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Lleyton Hewitt, made me wonder just how long Tiger will be willing to fight the fight. With Woods, the intensity has always been turned up so high, the scrutiny so microscopic, that you have to question whether he can sustain the heart it takes to play on his level for the length of time it took Jack Nicklaus to amass 18 major titles.

Woods is 27, in the prime of his life, his body cut, his passion for the game still unrivaled. One little blip and we're not retiring him. But how many more years like this can he take? How many more grinds are left in him before he pulls a Sampras and checks out?

Tennis players start earlier and burn out faster than golfers, but Woods has been in the vortex now since his teenage years, and is beginning to enjoy life -- as he should. Is the price it will take to match the Nicklaus record really worth it? Is being The Greatest of All Time essential to achieving a full and balanced life? Does Tiger have to win 10 more majors before we acknowledge his place in history -- or has that already been determined?

These are questions that don't need to be answered now, because Woods is still in his mid-to-late twenties, going through the first patch of extended frustration, and what we've come to see in this majorless season is a dogged affinity to fight through the adversity. As David Feherty pointed out Friday at the NEC Invitational, Woods can look awful (by his standards) and still be on the first page of the leaderboard. This is a tribute to the man's tenacity, not his ball striking.

His swing is not where it was during the four-year stretch of indomitable golf. He is not "wide, tight and ripping it," the way he was from the '99 PGA at Medinah through the Open at Bethpage last summer. Too often he is loose, stuck, and flipping it -- flaws that can't seem to be self-corrected. His drive on the 72nd hole at Firestone -- a violent pull hook into the trees, followed by a clubhead slam into the tee box -- was a replay of what we've seen since the Players Championship. Somewhere after off-season knee surgery, and wins in three of his first four tournaments, Tiger got disconnected and could never "match up" with enough consistency to win major championships.

With Woods, the intensity has always been turned up so high, the scrutiny so microscopic, that you have to question whether he can sustain the heart it takes to play on his level for the length of time it took Jack Nicklaus to amass 18 major titles.

It was a lull by his standards, but not by anyone else's, and therein lies the essence of Woods' growing frustration with the expectations laid down by a phenomenal run of golf. You win four tournaments, have the second-lowest stroke average of all time, make over $4 million in eight months, and people ask you what's wrong? When will the time come when, like Sampras, you wake up not wanting to work out, hit balls, and be totally committed.

What made the legacy of Nicklaus was his longevity, doing it over a longer period of time than anyone in history. There were 26 years between his first and last major, and at the end he was playing hungry, needing a Masters victory in 1986 to bail out a struggling company. With $220 million in the bank already, Woods will never stare at that type of need. He has yet to design a golf course, or star in a summer blockbuster.

The runs of all the other great players have lasted roughly six years. This is Woods' seventh full season. He is exponentially still the greatest player in the game, but this year he is third or fourth best overall in performance, depending on where you rank the seasons of Mike Weir, Davis Love III, and Jim Furyk.

We've seen him beat himself with bad decisions, the first time since 1997 that impetuosity has over-ridden solid course management. Nobody has stood up and beat him head-to-head yet, but the tournaments he used to win -- like last week's NEC -- are ending up as top fives. Yet he goes into this week's Deutsche Bank Championship telling us it's not that far off.

What will it be like five years from now? Say he walked away with 14 majors the way Sampras did, would we think any less of him? The answer would be no. Like Sampras, he has always given the game everything he's had. That's where the respect comes in.

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine

Do you have a question or comment for Tim? Send your inquiries to with the word "Rosaforte" in the subject field. Tim will answer the best questions.
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post #3 of 3 (permalink) Old 04-24-2007, 05:32 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Sampras Heart - Greatness.

Pete’s Heart: Okay, he was a bit charisma-impaired and critics claimed he had a soul-deadening, tennis-only mindset. But, pre-Federer, no one delivered a more potent mix of lethal power and fluid athleticism. Ultimately, not only did Pete Sampras tatter the record books, but his oversized heart left us with a dizzying collection of poignant memories, whether it was his flowing tears in Melbourne, his collapsing after his Davis Cup heroics in Moscow or his final bow in the Wimbledon dusk.
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