Pete Sampras takes a final lap around Arthur Ashe Stadium with his son Christian Charles after he announced his retirement from tennis on Monday. — AP/PTI photo
Emotional Sampras bids adieu
New York, August 26
For one final time Pete Sampras held a Centre Court crowd spellbound as he finally walked away from the sport which turned him into one of America’s all-time greats.
Blinding banks of camera flashes bathed the Flushing Meadows centre court yesterday in a suitably surreal light as more than 20,000 fans bade an emotional farewell to the man who won more Grand Slams than anyone else in history.
That same Centre Court had been the scene of his first Grand Slam triumph 13 years ago and it was also the stage for his 14th and final one last year.
Perhaps only Wimbledon’s magical turf which Sampras ruled for the best part of a decade would have provided a more fitting backdrop for his departure from tennis.
But Sampras saved his farewell for his own people on his home arena.
“Wow, this is the last time I’m going to be here. It is hard to say goodbye but I know it is time,” he told the Centre Court crowd, tears glistening in his eyes.
“I am going to miss playing here. I love playing in New York, in front of you guys but I know in my heart it is time to say goodbye,” he added as calls of `we love you Pete’ rang out around the arena.
Twelve months ago Sampras took apart his great rival Andre Agassi for a final time in a championship match which encapsulated Sampras’s style and his mastery of the serve-and-volley game.
He had not played competitively since that landmark match and the 32-year-old’s decision to turn his back on professional tennis came as no surprise.
Still, though, the formal stamp on his decision to retire marked an emotional and poignant end of an era.
Since winning his first major title here in 1990, Sampras has ruled the world of tennis with a style and modesty seldom seen on the sporting stage.
His collection of grand slam crowns tell only part of the Sampras story and his career of records and milestones which make the $ 43 million of prize money amassed seem a mere footnote to his success.
Much more than the seven Wimbledon crowns, five US Opens titles and two Australian Open titles he won, the manner of his victories and the memories and legacy he leaves behind will last in the memory.
Never one for histrionics or on-court emotion, Sampras’s mask slipped only briefly during his career.
But on those few occasions it did, the world was treated to a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the most dominant sportsmen of all time.
Behind the laid back and gentlemanly demeanour, Sampras was tigerishly competitive and ravenous for success.
The evening he clinched his seventh Wimbledon crown in 2000 brought rare tears to his eyes as he held the trophy aloft in the dank London dusk on a Centre Court sparkling with flashlights.
It was the evening he etched his name into the record books, matching a 19th century record for Wimbledon men’s singles titles and clinching a record 13th Grand Slam crown. — Reuters