Re: With Courage Under Fire,, SAMPRAS.
Tennis: Wimbledon - Tears that testify to the true Sampras
Independent, The (London), Jul 10, 2000 by James Lawton
IT'S A FAIRLY boring thing to do, falling on your knees on Centre Court and leaking a tear or two. But that's Pete Sampras for you. He's an open book.
You read it according to your nature and, perhaps, your feeling about what exactly separates the great from the merely talented.
If you have any sense of this at all, the odds are you turn the pages of the Sampras book as you might those of "Moby Dick". You're not reading about tennis, or deep sea fishing. The subject is fortitude, and how certain men get an idea in their heads and refuse to have it shaken loose.
Sampras knew, you could see it in every nuance of his face and his body, that this was the time to take his place in history, to win his 13th Grand Slam, and seventh Wimbledon, and set a mark that is unlikely ever to be surpassed. And because Sampras is who he is and what he is, there is no mystery about his reactions to any given situation.
When his beloved coach Tim Gullikson was dying, Sampras wept on court in Melbourne. When he beat Pat Rafter last night, he wept again. Different tears, different situation, but the same source of emotion, the same level of regard and passion that sometimes just has to burst from the tight coiling of a man who simply plays tennis with every fibre of his being. Some of the fibre had been a little frayed these last two weeks, but not at his competitive core.
When Rafter, who had played so sublimely against Andre Agassi 48 hours earlier, faltered on the point of winning a second straight tie- break, to go two sets up, there was a stiffening of Sampras's resolve that down the years so many opponents had seen with an instant slippage of hope. Rafter had had Sampras in trouble, no doubt, and from that point the match's stacatto rhythm, which had been imposed by a two-and-a-half hour break for rain, was over. Sampras had returned to a zone of action, and competitive composure, never equalled in the annals of the game.
Boring Sampras? Sure. Boring in the way of the sun in the morning when it comes up the usual way, eschewing some wild diversion from its axis. Boring in that way of consistency, which rejects whim and mood and just goes on producing levels of performance which make the opposition want to sue for peace. Sampras has been all of this all of his adult life, which at the age of 28 must sometimes strike him as being quite a long time, all those years since he exploded on to the consciousness of the sporting world as a 19-year-old winner of the US Open. All of those years of being asked to liven up his act, add a little spice, a little colour, a little of the wildness of McEnroe or Connors or Agassi, can wear a man down, but Sampras has not been for wearing down. He has been for playing, for operating on the highest ground of his sport, and if the world cried for a little titillation, the world would have to be disappointed. The world could take the best of Sampras, only that.
Here in victory he tried to cut loose with a few of the humanities, thanked his parents Sam and Georgia, his fiancee Bridgette and God, and promptly apologised with the swift announcement that he was not "going religious".
But he did seek out his parents in the stand, not in the flamboyant style of Pat Cash or the ecstasy of Venus Williams, but with the measured tread of a dutiful son.
He explained why he had urged his parents to make a rare appearance at one of his big games. He said: "The older that I've gotten, you want your family around, you know. They've always given me my space when I've been playing, competing. They don't want me to worry about them. But I told myself if I got to the final here, or any major, that I wanted to to have them here. They don't like all the attention. They get very nervous.
"Not just that, but being superstitious, they are very shy people, they don't want to be on camera. So they don't want you to know where they are sitting."
Because of this, Sampras took some time to find his mother on the terraces of the arena he has made his own more completely than any of the great ones, Laver, Borg and McEnroe.
There was maybe a clue or two in the matter of Sampras's desire to have his parents on the scene of his latest Grand Slam victory. It might, you had to believe, have something to do with his sense that his time at the very top of his game may at last be ebbing.
"They've always been very supportive, very loving. They weren't the typical parents, where they were with me every week. I'm my own man. They always give me my independence. They supported me throughout all the highs and lows. They've seen me at my best and my worst. They're not tennis parents. You see a lot of cases were parents get too involved. They've always kept their distance. I mean when I go home I'm the same Pete they've always treated as a kid. They've given me the strength and the heart to be here. They gave me the chance to play this great game."
It was, all in all, one of the longest speeches Pete Sampras had ever made, and what was it about? About the solid values of his Greek tradition, of parents who shunned the camera and got on with their lives. Lives that some might say were, well, a little boring. But Sampras clearly didn't care. They had made him what he was, and he knew well enough now it was to be a champion of the world who might just never be touched. It was something to hold against the boredom.
Something, he added, which would no doubt deepen down the years but he didn't, after all, come into the game to dazzle everyone with his personality. He came to win, and keep on winning, and now he said: "This is one of my best moments and I know that over time I'll appreciate it much more than I could do right now."
He could have said it for us all.
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