Sampras always remembers coach who changed his life
By CHIP BROWN / The Dallas Morning News
The introduction of Pete Sampras to Tim Gullikson in 1992 was one of
those fateful meetings that changed the history of an entire sport.
Like Norv Turner was to Troy Aikman or Butch Harmon is to Tiger Woods,
Gullikson was the visionary who harnessed the mega-talent of a shy,
unsure kid from southern California and turned him into the serve-and-
volley Goliath who crashed the boundaries of men's tennis.
On Friday, Sampras will continue showing his appreciation for
Gullikson, who died from brain tumors at age 44 in May 1996, by playing
former Texan Andy Roddick in an exhibition match at SMU's Moody
Sampras and Roddick, the king and prince of U.S. men's tennis, are
playing the match for free so that all proceeds will benefit the Tim
and Tom Gullikson Foundation, which raises money for care and support
of brain-tumor patients.
"It was difficult to see what cancer did to Tim and to his family
because Tim was so energetic and well-liked," Sampras said
Wednesday. "Being at the funeral, something like 900 people showed up,
and it was a reflection on the type of person he was. Since then, I've
tried to help raise some money. Hopefully, Friday we'll have a good
turnout in Dallas."
Before Sampras became the all-time men's leader in Grand Slam victories
(13) and a seven-time Wimbledon champion, he was powerful but wobbly,
much like a yearling. He raced at times, tripped blindly at others and
wondered if becoming the youngest men's U.S. Open champion at 19 in
1990 was a blessing or a curse.
When he lost in the 1991 U.S. Open quarterfinals, Sampras said he was
more relieved than disappointed and felt like "a ton of bricks" was
lifted from his shoulders. That was heresy to the ears of Jimmy Connors
and Jim Courier, among others, who criticized Sampras publicly.
"I had a fairy tale breakthrough in 1990, and I was struggling to feel
comfortable in my own skin," Sampras said. "I was insecure, even though
I had won a major."
A change for the better
After going nearly two years without reaching another Grand Slam final,
Sampras looked to make a coaching change. Sampras' agent at the time
contacted Tim Gullikson's twin brother, Tom, about possibly coaching
Sampras. Tom had a contract he couldn't break with the United States
Tennis Association but recommended his twin brother.
"Pete was this shy 20-year-old, and Tim was outgoing," said Tom
Gullikson, a former player and former U.S. Davis Cup captain. "Tim
treated the locker room attendant at Wimbledon the same way he treated
a CEO. He not only taught Pete a lot about tennis but a lot about life.
From the beginning, it was one of those relationships that just
Sampras' three-year record at Wimbledon was 1-3 (two first-round losses
and a second-round loss) when he hooked up with Tim Gullikson, a crafty
grass-court player who won four singles titles and reached the final of
seven others during a career in the 1970s. Gullikson upset John McEnroe
in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1979.
Gullikson and Sampras agreed Wimbledon was the perfect showcase for
Sampras' serve-and-volley talent. But Sampras struggled to return serve
on grass, particularly on the backhand side, and it was eating at his
confidence. Gullikson turned the weakness into a strength by shortening
the stroke. He gave Sampras other technical advice – to replace flashy
with high-percentage tennis – and most of all, a grinding killer
"Tim was kind of a blue-collar mentality who didn't have a ton of
talent but made the most of what he had," Sampras said. "I had a ton of
talent but didn't have the blue-collar mentality. The combination of
all that was why I was able to reach the next level and win the majors
Sampras had won four of the last six majors and his career was one
victorious match point after another when doctors discovered four
tumors on Tim Gullikson's brain during the 1995 Australian Open. The
tournament and Gullikson's life-threatening diagnosis produced one of
the most memorable matches of Sampras' career.
After losing the first two sets in deflating tiebreakers in a
quarterfinal match against Courier, Sampras heard a fan yell, "C'mon
Pete, do it for your coach!" Tears rolled down Sampras' cheeks as he
patrolled the court. He somehow mustered the strength to rally for a
"I had held it all in regarding Tim's situation, and the moment,
combined with the emotion of the match, finally caught up to me," said
Sampras, who eventually lost to Andre Agassi in the final.
After living with brain cancer for 16 months, Tim Gullikson, was buried
by family and friends, including a 24-year-old Sampras, on May 7, 1996,
four days after Gullikson died. That year became an emotional buzz saw
for Sampras, who wanted more than anything to win the French Open – the
only Grand Slam title to elude him – for his coach.
Sampras defeated two French Open champions – Sergi Bruguera and
Courier – en route to the semifinals, where he simply had nothing left
in a three-set loss to Yevgeny Kafelnikov. It's still Sampras' best
showing in Paris.
"To see your coach and one of your best friends fight cancer and lose,
right at the beginning of your career, is an incredibly hard thing,"
said Paul Annacone, who coached Sampras for six years after Gullikson's
death. "I think Pete and Tim had an impenetrable bond."
Looking for direction
Over the past two years, Sampras has been looking for that same
confidence he got from Tim Gullikson, affectionately known as Gully.
Sampras split with Annacone at the end of last year and began working
with Tom, who was Sampras' captain in 1995 when Sampras dominated a
victory over Russia in the United States' last Davis Cup title.
But Sampras broke off their alliance after only one tournament – this
year's Australian Open – because Sampras believed they were too close
to have a player-coach relationship. Sampras has since been working
with taskmaster Jose Higueras. Tom Gullikson was hurt and disappointed
"I guess he just felt he needed someone to coach him without the deep
personal ties that we have," Tom Gullikson said.
Every year, Sampras does fund-raisers, such as golf tournaments,
exhibitions and his Aces for Charity (he and his sponsors donate money
for every ace he hits), to help benefit the Gulliksons' foundation as
well as other causes. Dallas was selected for Friday's event because of
the city's rich tennis history, which includes Lamar Hunt's World
Championship Tennis final that used to be played in Reunion Arena.
Sampras said Tim Gullikson will be on his mind Friday night.
"Tim was more than a coach," Sampras said. "Tim was an extrovert, the
life of the party. I fed off him because he almost had too many
friends. He brought personality out in me. I miss him and owe him a
SAMPRAS VS. RODDICK
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: SMU's Moody Coliseum
Why: All proceeds benefit the Tim and Tom Gullikson Foundation, which
provides support for brain-tumor patients and their families.
Tickets: $30 and $15 available by calling 214-373-8000
Ht/Wt: 6-1, 175
Born: Washington, D.C.
Residence: Los Angeles
Turned pro: 1988
Singles titles: 63
Grand Slam titles: 13
Prize money: $42,329,889
2002 record: 17-14 (0 titles)
Ht/Wt: 6-1, 180
Born: Omaha, Neb.
Residence: Boca Raton, Fla.
Turned pro: 2000
Singles titles: 5
Prize money: $1,360,566
2002 record: 36-12 (2 titles)
Notable: Roddick lived in Austin as a kid before moving to
Florida. ... Roddick is the youngest player in the ATP top 20 and has
won both head-to-head meetings against Sampras. ... Roddick has played
charity events since he was the top-ranked junior in the world two
years ago. "It's nice to see a young man who understands giving back at
such a young age," Tom Gullikson said of Roddick. ... Sampras on
Roddick: "Of all the young Americans coming up, I think Andy has the
most talent and potential. He packs a lot of power. Where he goes from
here is up to him, but I think he's on the right path."