Re: The other Sampras Legacy
Sampras' legacy already in place
By Caroline Cheese
Pete Sampras has left the door ajar on returning to the tennis circuit but if he has played his last competitive match, he has already assured himself a place among the legends of tennis.
The arguments will continue to rage over whether Sampras can call himself the greatest ever, but in terms of numbers he has no equal.
His Wimbledon victory in 2000 gave him an Open era record of seven titles at the All England Club, and saw him overtake Roy Emerson's tally of 12 Grand Slam titles.
With US Open victory in 2002 he extended his Grand Slam record to 14, and moved level with Jimmy Connors on five wins at Flushing Meadows - only three pre-war players have won more titles there.
But perhaps the most impressive statistic is the record six years he finished as world number one, a feat that many experts and players believe will never be beaten.
From 1993 to 1998, Sampras was a ruthless force, sweeping to 10 Grand Slams and 32 other titles.
With the number of attritional baseliners flooding the tour, Sampras' serve-volleying became something of an anachronism.
But coming in behind a delivery which few could read, let alone combat, with winners, Sampras' exquisite touch at the net had his opponents floundering time and again.
During those six years, only Andre Agassi could claim to have the measure of Sampras - but when it counted, even the Las Vegan could not stop his rival adding to his already crammed trophy cabinet.
Sampras holds a 20-14 career record over Agassi, winning four of the five Grand Slam finals the two have contested.
Such was Sampras' supremacy over his rivals that he rarely received due credit for his achievements and faced persistent accusations that his introverted personality made him dull to watch.
But few could have quibbled with the way Sampras won his record 13th Grand Slam title in a rain-affected final on his adopted Centre Court home in 2000.
When Sampras eventually beat Patrick Rafter after four sets of high-quality tennis, the darkness had begun to fall.
Sampras, often characterised by his lack of emotion, fought back the tears as he staggered up to the stands to be congratulated by his parents, who had made their first visit to Wimbledon to witness their son rewriting the history books.
Given his performance over that fortnight, when he had struggled with a leg injury, there seemed little doubt that Sampras would be adding to that record.
But instead there was to follow a title-less 25 months in which Sampras lurched from one new low to the next.
The run began at the 2000 US Open where he was thrashed in the final by a 20-year-old Marat Safin, a match seen by many as symbolic of the end of an era.
The following year he was beaten by Lleyton Hewitt in the final, and the whisperings that Sampras' time might be up grew significantly louder.
By the time he was bundled out in the second round of Wimbledon by little-known George Bastl, Sampras cut a rather pathetic figure.
As he approached the US Open, he had slumped to 17th in the rankings but the way the tournament panned out, it was as if Sampras had planned it all along.
Steadily growing in confidence as he progressed into the second week, the 31-year-old was reborn in the final - frustrating Agassi once more to clinch a fairytale title.
The win made him the oldest winner since 1970, having become the youngest ever in 1990 when he captured his first major, and could have provided the perfect bookend to a truly phenomenal career.