Re: Sam (Soterios) and Georgia Sampras
This is part of an interview that pete gives in 2000
Pete on his parents
Q. Your parents, Sam and Georgia, are legendary for staying clear of the limelight. How would you describe them and how they influenced you?
I found tennis for myself. My parents just supported my interest in the game. It was a financial strain. For a while, my dad worked two jobs. [Sam Sampras, now retired, was both an engineer and a restaurant owner.] At first, he tried coaching me by reading books about the game. But that didn't last too long, and we joke about it now.
Dad turned my development over to my first coach, Pete Fischer. But he was right there, at a lot of my lessons, and driving me to matches and tournaments. So he was involved, but not on-court. He was smart enough to know what he didn't know.
My dad is a similar kind of character to me. He keeps people at arm's length, but once he trust and likes you, he'll be loyal to the end. That could take a while, though. It took my younger sister Marion's husband, Phil Hodges, a year to break through Dad's shield.
He also doesn't come off as the warmest of people on the phone. When my childhood friends would call, they were always a little intimidated.
But Dad's also nervous. Neither he or my mum could bear to watch the 1990 US Open final on TV, so they wandered around a shopping mall near our house in California. They found out I had won when they passed by an electronics store and saw a TV tuned to a shot of me holding up the trophy.
When I was a junior, I played in higher divisions than my age. At 12, I'd be playing against 16 year olds. Often, right in the middle of some tough match, I'd look up at my dad. So what does he do? He waves goodbye and goes for a walk! And then I feel like I'm out there alone. I'm convince that those experiences shaped who I am today. They made me tough and independent. That's why you rarely see me looking at the players' box during a match.
My mum is the rock of the family. She used to feed me tennis balls because I was so crazy about the game, but she doesn't have many interests of her own beyond her kids.
She started out dirt-poor, moving to the States from Greece at the age of 25 without speaking a word of English, with a family that included six sisters and two brothers. Those first years, she sometimes slept on a cement floor. She became a beautician, and met my father when a friend of his encouraged him to check her out at the place where she cut hair.
Mum is the caretaker of the family. She has no education, but a lot of common sense, and she reads people well. Her talent is her heart, yet in her own quiet way, she's very strong.
Q. Your parents normally never come to watch you play, but this year they attended a Davis Cup tie and then, for the first time, Wimbledon. What prompted them to come and watch?
It's all part of a bigger picture that includes my moving back to Los Angeles.
I went off to live in Florida in my early twenties so I could focus on my tennis. The plan worked, but tennis began to consum me and I ended up enjoying the game less because of it. The time I spent with my family was mostly on the phone. Now that I'm back in Los Angeles, I fell I'm back where my roots are. I see my sister, Stella, three, four times a week. I drop by my parent's house once a week or so. It's been more good for my life to be back here. It's been great.
My dad sat through all the matches at the Davis Cup [against the Czech Republic] - a first. And when he came onto the court after I won the decisive rubber against Slava Dosedel and gave me a hug, it felt good. Really good.
I think they always wanted to be there with me, but they didn't want me worrying about them. And I would have - did they get their tickets okay? Is the hotel any good? That kind of stuff. The funny thing was that I actually had to make the point that I really wanted them there. I had to come out and tell them how much it meant to me for them to come.