The beauty of the Pete Sampras era in tennis is that one does not remember when it began or when it ended.
One of the greatest players to ever grace the tennis scene, the seven-time Wimbledon champion has admitted that he is now "95 per cent" certain he has played his last professional match.
"It’s time for other guys to hold up the trophies," he says.
At 31, Sampras is walking away from the sport he so nobly graced.
A walk down memory lane.
The earliest memory of Sampras is during the 1990 US Open, when he upset Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi in the last three rounds to become the youngest men's champion at 19 years, 28 days.
Not much of the American ace's persona has changed since then.
"People know me. I'm not going to produce any cartwheels out there. I'm not going to belong on Comedy Central. I'll always be a tennis player, not a celebrity."
Sampras's most powerful weapon has always been his serve. Without any discernable change in his service action, the ball is directed towards different corners of the court at great pace. That's what makes the Sampras serve so difficult to pick and virtually impossible to return.
"Sometimes I think he forgets the difference between his first serve and his second serve," said Boris Becker, who lost to Sampras in the 1993 Wimbledon semi-final.
Wimbledon, where Sampras once went 54-1 in matches during an eight-year stretch, was home to the American.
The seven titles, tying Willie Renshaw, a player in the 1880s, for the most at the All England Club, is a feat that no player is likely to match in the future. He may have had his failings on other surfaces but on grass he was simply flawless. In the words of Andre Agassi: 'The best grass-court player ever.'
History will remember Sampras. Not because of his stunning acrobatic smashes, not because he was a very quiet champion on and off the court or not even because he dominated the men's circuit with such authority (Six consecutive years at number one), but simply because his records will stand the test of time.
All-Time Grand Slam Singles Titles Leaderboard:
14 Pete Sampras
12 Roy Emerson
11 Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg
10 William Tilden
8 Fred Perry, Ken Rosewell, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl
The only Grand Slam that eluded him was the French Open. A serve and volleyer by trade, Sampras never managed to come to grips with the red clay of Roland Garros.
In 2001, after working to improve his play on clay by hiring a new coach, and with different training, he suffered a disappointing loss in the first round of the French Open. Thereafter, things started to go steadily downhill
"I play for history," Sampras had once said. "That is my motivation."
He has re-written the history books and for the first time in 15 years there is no Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. Just the thought leaves a very bad after-taste.
"I took my bows at the U.S. Open (2002)," Pete Sampras said about that moment. "I just didn't know it."
"Sampras, Sampras, Sampras, Sampras and Sampras," was Agassi's reply, in October 1998, when asked who are the best five players of all-time. Need we say more.
The years of pushing himself so hard to stay at the top finally told on both Sampras's mind and body. He has, in all-probability, played his last match. Without doubt, his presence will be sorely missed.