The following article was reprinted from the ATP's Official Magazine, DEUCE.
Pete Sampras began his path to all-time greatness as a raw 19-year-old kid in 1990 when he became the youngest US Open champion in history. Thirteen more Grand Slam singles titles have followed, making Sampras the most successful player in history. STEVE FLINK traces the amazing journey from rookie to Grand Slam master by analyzing each of his 14 triumphs.
US Open 1990: A quarterfinal against Ivan Lendl had inescapable changing-of-the-guard implications. Two years earlier, Sampras had visited Lendl's Connecticut home for a week of practice, and Lendl had been skeptical about Sampras' intestinal fortitude. So when the 19-year-old Sampras severely bruised his toe during their match, Lendl believed he would win. But as he would do throughout his career, Sampras played through his pain. The No. 12 seed attacked skillfully all through the final set, bringing his total aces in the match to 24. He then struck down John McEnroe and Andre Agassi with the loss of only one set to become the youngest man ever to win the Open.
Wimbledon 1993: Confronting Jim Courier in his first Centre Court final was no simple matter. Courier, breathing down Sampras' neck at No. 2 in the world, had secured four Grand Slam titles while Sampras was still searching for his second. Furthermore, Sampras had lost the US Open final to Stefan Edberg 10 months earlier, and was absolutely determined not to suffer another setback in a major final. With a sense of urgency, Sampras- hunched over apprehensively and fatigued as he served for the match at 5-3 in the fourth set - gamely won 7-6 (3) 7-6, (6) 3-6, 6-3, sealing his first major in nearly three years. He explained later, "I was more nervous for that match with Courier than for any that I had ever played."
US Open 1993: In essence, Sampras won the tournament in the quarterfinals. He took on his old nemesis Michael Chang in a sparkling battle under lights. At this point Chang was ahead 6-2 in the rivalry, and early in the encounter, Sampras was precariously perched at 6-7, 6-6. But he made his move to level the match in the tie-break, then soared to another level, comprehensively dismissing Chang 6-7 (0), 7-6 (2), 6-1, 6-1 - winning 20 of 25 points in the first five games of the fourth and final set. The 1972 Open champion Ilie Nastase said, "The last two sets were the best I have ever seen anyone play on hard courts." Sampras glided to the title without losing another set.
Australian Open 1994: Sampras drifted precariously close to defeat in the second round against an unknown adversary named Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The 19-year-old Russian tested the American to the hilt in some compelling baseline exchanges. Sampras was two points away from a bruising departure at 4-5, 30-30 in the final set, but he won on willpower, pulling through 9-7 in the fifth set. From that juncture, there was no stopping him. He became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to take three Grand Slam titles in a row.
Wimbledon 1994: In the final, Sampras faced a man, who two years earlier had handed him his last loss at the All England Club - Goran Ivanisevic. All through the tournament, Sampras, who had already captured seven titles that year, seemed almost invincible. But the towering, left-hander was a tough man to bring down in the final. Goran served 16 aces in the first set, but a resolute Sampras came through 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5), 6-0 with masterful poise under pressure. It was the first time he had successfully defended a Grand Slam crown.
Wimbledon 1995: After Sampras subdued Ivanisevic in a tension-packed, five set semifinal, Chris Evert said, "Pete has not played that one great match we all know he can. He will in the final." He met Boris Becker, who had defeated Agassi for the first time in six years to move into his seventh Wimbledon final. With a cheering crowd, Becker won the first set. Early in the second, Sampras produced a perfect passing shot, but the audience barely responded. He turned to the courtside observers and raised his palms encouraging them to raise the volume of their appreciation. Thereafter, the fans applauded vigorously for Sampras, as he gave an immaculate display of grass court tennis, bouncing back to win 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. Becker conceded sportingly, "The Centre Court used to belong to me. But now it belongs to Pete Sampras."
US Open 1995: The Sampras-Agassi final was monumental. They were the two best players in the world, only by now it was defending champion Agassi at the top of the rankings. In many ways, the match was settled on the final point of the opening set. With Agassi serving at 4-5, they had a dazzling rally of 22 strokes that Sampras won with a crosscourt backhand winner. Sampras had shown that he could hold his own with Agassi from the backcourt, showing that his greatness wasn't derived solely from his serve. Sampras earned a 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 victory and took the top spot. Agassi would not win another Grand Slam event until 1999.
US Open 1996: This was the last chance for Sampras to take a major after an emotional season. He faced the cagey Alex Corretja in the quarterfinals, and during this 4 hour, 9 minute battle, Pete was badly dehydrated. Drinking Pepsi at the changeovers exacerbated his plight. He threw up on the court during the fifth set tie-break and was slumped over on his racquet between points, fighting courageously, playing solely on adrenaline. At 6-7 in the tie-break, Sampras saved a match point with a superb lunging forehand volley winner. At 7-7, Sampras released a spectacular second serve wide to the forehand with heavy slice for an ace. A stunned Corretja double faulted. Sampras somehow triumphed 7-6 (5), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7). He returned over the weekend to commandingly take the title over Goran Ivanisevic and Michael Chang. Never before had he won a major after facing a match point.
Australian Open 1997: An oppressive afternoon in Melbourne, in the round of 16, Sampras encountered the free-swinging 19-year-old Domink Hrbaty. The Slovak, No. 76 in the world, was blasting away off his forehand, going for audacious returns and playing with unswerving conviction. Sampras was down 2-4,15-40 in the fifth set. But clutch serving and tenacity helped Sampras sweep four games in a row for the triumph. He would crush Thomas Muster in the semifinals and Carlos Moya in the final. But this would be his last Slam other than Wimbledon for five and a half years.
Wimbledon 1997: The previous year, eventual champion Richard Krajicek defeated three-time reigning champion Sampras in the quarterfinals. Despite a five set, two-day skirmish with Petr Korda in the round of 16, Sampras never looked like he could lose. In seven matches, he held his delivery 116 of 118 times, broken only by Mikael Tillstrom in the first round and Todd Woodbridge in the semifinals. He swept past Cedric Pioline in a straight set final. "That was the best I've ever served," he said after reclaiming his crown. Sampras' triumph began a streak of four consecutive titles. Between 1993-2000 he won seven of eight Wimbledons and returned a staggering 53-1 match record.
Wimbledon 1998: With the sun shining into his eyes during this Centre Court final against Ivanisevic, Sampras lost the first set in a tie-break and serving at 5-6 and then 7-8 in the second set tie-break, was twice one point away from trailing two sets to love. But the Croatian missed a pair of backhand returns off second serves, and eventually Sampras moved in front two sets to one. But in the fourth, Ivanisevic erupted with four passing shots to break the American at 3-4. They were locked at 2-2 in that set, but Sampras took 16 of the last 19 points, finishing on the ascendancy. Sampras won only three other titles during the year, but the Wimbledon triumph helped him claim the year-end No.1 ranking for the sixth consecutive season. He is the only player in the history of the ATP rankings to achieve the feat.
Wimbledon 1999: A resurgent Andre Agassi was overflowing with confidence after capturing Roland Garros. In the semifinals at the All England Club, he dissected U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter in straight sets, making many knowledgeable critics believe he would topple Sampras in their fourth Grand Slam final. Serving at 3-3, 0-40 in the opening set, Sampras connected with four stifling first serves and a crackling second delivery in an astonishing display of grace under pressure. Sampras then broke the match wide open, collecting five games in a row, raising his game to unimaginable heights, winning 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, producing a match he would call "probably the best I have ever played." Sampras joined Australian Roy Emerson as the only male player to win 12 Grand Slam singles titles.
Wimbledon 2000: In his grittiest effort ever at a Grand Slam event, Sampras won the tournament on one leg. Suffering from tendinitis in his left shin and foot from the second round on, he had to take injections before his last five matches, which wore off after 75 minutes. Unable to practice on his off days, Sampras was fortunate not to meet a single seed until Rafter in the final. Two rain delays ate up so much time that by 6:30 p.m., the score was only 4-4. Despite having set points, Sampras lost the first set. Rafter then served at 4-1 in the second set tie-break, but Sampras boldly took five of the next six points and leveled the match. Sampras took the third set on one break, then charged to 5-2 in the fourth. Light was fading rapidly above the fabled Centre Court. Sampras calmly served out the match at love, coming through 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2. At 8:57 pm, Sampras claimed his record 13th major, covering his head in his hands, breaking into joyful tears, smiling towards his fiancée, climbing into the stands to hug his parents, Sam and Georgia, who had never seen him win a major before.
US Open 2002: Sampras, who had not won a tournament since the 2000 Wimbledon, was suffering through the longest losing streak of his career - 33 consecutive events - and came into this event seeded only 17. Rain then forced him to play five matches across the last seven days. Across the net in the final stood none other than Agassi. After taking the first two sets, Sampras served into a strong wind at 5-6 in the third, and lost his delivery. In the fourth, Sampras served into that troublesome wind again at 1-2, making an almost miraculous backhand half-volley at break point down. At 3-4, from that same side, he fought off another break point. With Agassi serving at 4-4, Sampras sealed the break that he needed to serve for the championship. At 5-4, 30-0, he cracked a blockbuster 119 mph second serve ace, his 33rd of the match - a personal record for a major final. Sampras triumphed 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 reaffirming his immense stature, redefining the meaning of being a champion for the ages.
An incurable tennis addict, Steve Flink has been known to call pressrooms on every continent for point-by-point updates. Flink worked at World Tennis Magazine for 17 years and since 1992 has been a senior correspondent at Tennis Week. He has also worked as a broadcaster for ESPN and MSG Sports, a researcher for CBS and NBC and a consultant for the International Tennis Hall of Fame. As author of The Greatest Tennis Matches of the 20th Century, Flink's unrivaled recall of match history is displayed here in his account of Pete Sampras' 14 Grand Slam titles.
Sampras reaches immortality in historic 1998
By Thomas Cheng
Nineteen ninety-eight was a historic year for professional tennis. It witnessed the rise of future stars, the resurgence of old champions, and a level of competitiveness unprecedented in the history of the sport. At the same time, it may have foreshadowed things to come in the next decade: the reign of Lindsay Davenport, the domination of the Williams sisters, and a rivalry between Marcelo Rios and Patrick Rafter. It also left us with one very important question that has fascinated many for the past few years: is Pete Sampras the best player ever?
Sampras' competitors have long ceased to be his contemporaries. As he has repeatedly said, he plays for his place in history. We have become so used to Sampras making history that we often overlook the significance of his accomplishments. When Marcelo Rios withdrew from the ATP Championships in Hannover, Germany a week ago, Sampras surpassed Jimmy Connors' previous record and became the only player to have finished six consecutive seasons with the No. 1 ranking. He has held the top ranking for more than 260 weeks and has remained in the top two since 1993. He has won more Grand Slam titles than Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Michael Chang, and Patrick Rafter combined. With 11 Slam titles--including five at Wimbledon and four at the U.S. Open--under his belt, he is only one short of Australian Roy Emerson's all-time record of 12 Grand Slam singles titles. At the age of 27, Sampras has at least three or four more years left in his tennis career. It is only a matter of time before he will break the Slam record.
We have to look back three decades to find a player who can contend with Sampras for the title of the best player ever. Rod Laver, the legendary Australian player who dominated men's tennis during the '60s, was often mentioned as the best player in history before Sampras came along. "The Rocket," as he was affectionately called by his fellow players for his powerful serve and forehand, also has 11 Grand Slam titles to his credit. While Sampras has never won the French Open, Laver triumphed on the red clay of Roland Garros twice. In addition, he is the only player to have accomplished the Grand Slam--winning all four major championships in the same calendar year--twice in his career. Based on this feat, many argue that Laver has a more legitimate claim than Sampras to be the best player in history.
Although Sampras has never won the French Open, we have to remember that professional tennis is much more competitive in the '90s than it was in the '60s. In Laver's time, the early rounds of Grand Slam tournaments were nothing more than practice matches for the top players since only a handful of players were good enough to be a consistent threat to this elite group. Professional tennis has become so competitive in the last 30 years that a top player can now lose to the 100th-ranked player on any given day. Even Sampras has suffered seven early-round losses in Grand Slam tournaments in the last six years.
When Laver won his two Grand Slams in the '60s, the four Grand Slam tournaments were played on only two surfaces: clay at Roland Garros and grass at the other three. A player today, however, would have to master four different surfaces: the rubberized hardcourt at the Australian Open, clay at the French Open, grass at Wimbledon, and the cement hardcourt at the U.S. Open to win the Grand Slam. To make the task even more difficult, some players concentrate on mastering a particular surface such as clay-court specialists Alex Corretja and Felix Mantilla and fast-court players like Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman. Given the degree of competitiveness and diversification of modern professional tennis, Sampras' accomplishments are no less remarkable than Laver's.
The debate about Sampras' place in history will continue until he finally holds aloft the trophy at Roland Garros. But even if Sampras never wins a French Open title, this failure would only be a small blemish on an illustrious career. He has carried professional tennis to an unprecedented level and has been the yardstick against which every player in the '90s has been measured. In the increased competitiveness of today's tennis world, that may be as close as a player can come to being the best ever.
04-25-2005, 10:11 PM
Tennis world immortality is the
prize for Pistol Pete
by Frank Malley
ASK Pete Sampras what he has been doing since he won his fifth Wimbledon title last year and his most common reply is: getting a life.
Which is why for the first time in six years he will go into his most-prized event by no means a cast-iron favourite.
And why for the first time his preparation over the past few months has consisted of almost as many rounds of golf as tennis matches, as he has slackened his commitment to a sport which he admits has consumed his every waking thought since he was a young boy.
There is no question Sampras has lost his once-permanent air of invincibility.
At the French Open last month, when he was beaten in the second round by Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev, he looked mentally tired and vulnerable and lacked the sharpness which has always characterised his powerful all-court game.
The annual grind of the tennis tour, it appeared, had caught up with the sport's superstar of the Nineties.
But, while that may sound like good news for Britons Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, no one this next fortnight should be fooled by Sampras's less obsessive demeanour.
Tennis immortality is at stake this year on the luscious lawns of SW19 a sixth victory in the men's final on American Independence Day would eclipse Bjorn Borg's five-times feat and equal Roy Emerson's all-time record of 12 Grand Slam titles.
And that is an achievement to stir the blood in the veins of someone even as laid-back as Sampras.
OK, many tennis experts still maintain the legendary Rod Laver is the best of all time.
Others support Borg whose five successive Wimbledon Championships came in an era in which he had to contend with rivals such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.
But when it comes to sheer consistent, relentless serve and volley tennis, Sampras in the Nineties surely has no peer.
The Wimbledon '98 vintage his five-sets victory against Croatian Goran Ivanisevic saw him raising both arms to the sky and gently punching his fist in the direction of his camp of supporters following a final which he really should have lost.
That is Sampras. He doesn't smile too often, he rarely shows emotion.
He refuses to do anything controversial just to please people. But it doesn't mean he doesn't care. Indeed, he admits he still has to pinch himself when he recalls his achievements on the tennis world's most famous strip of grass.
''Five Wimbledons is something I never thought would be touched,'' he says.
''I was truly overwhelmed last year.
"I know I'm a favourite and many fans want to see an underdog, but I felt a new level of respect from the fans which was touching.''
He only wishes that the same respect was afforded him in his home country where baseball, basketball and American Football push tennis to the back of the public's consciousness.
''I know that if Tim Henman or Boris Becker were doing what I was doing in their respective countries it would be huge news, but I'm dealing with a different attitude in the States,'' he says.
''The give and take for me is that I have as normal a life as it's possible to have in my situation.
''It would be easier for me to get headlines if I was controversial, but I'm not going to change.''
Much of the talk after last year's final, which left everyone rightly feeling sorry for poor Ivanisevic, was of the crushing boredom suffered by the 14,000 or so on Centre Court.
Great chunks of that match belonged in the London Dungeon as an exhibit of human torture after Ivanisevic had pounded down 32 aces in a display of power serving which consigned tennis to the realms of watching paint dry.
But that's grass for you. They've suggested making the balls larger and softer, thought about introducing just one serve, even mentioned ripping up the hallowed turf of SW19 which makes Wimbledon the fastest surface in tennis.
And yet Wimbledon is packed out every year.
It has a habit of throwing the cream to the top, just as Pete Sampras has made a career of making tennis history.
Certainly not Pete Sampras. As if winning his seventh Wimbledon singles championship wasn't impressive enough, this one was even more special. His 6–7, 7–6, 6–4, 6–2 victory over Patrick Rafter was his 13th Grand Slam singles title, breaking the long-time mark of 12 held by Roy Emerson. Making the moment even more memorable was the fact that Sampras' parents, Sam and Georgia, were at the All England Club for the first time to see their son's record-setting performance. Pete also married actress/model Bridgette Wilson in 2000, which was a close runner-up to this moment.
05-03-2005, 08:59 PM
Pete Sampras: Undoubtedly the greatest ever grass court player
Sunday, July 4, 1999 Published at 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Pete Sampras's sixth Wimbledon title in seven years has cemented his place in tennis history as the game's greatest grass court player.
He achieved his 1999 title with typical flair - two second serve aces - and in doing so tied Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam titles, passing Bjorn Borg to become Wimbledon's greatest men's singles champion of the last 100 years.
Despite his success, Sampras remains a reluctant hero.
As a man he is fiercely private, but as a champion he demands that others appreciate his achievements.
His pursuit of Grand Slam titles might have begun as a painfully shy 19-year-old at the US Open in 1990, but it was at Wimbledon in 1993, when he defeated Jim Courier in the final, that his career came of age.
Master of the grass
He has never looked back, treating the 1996 blip against Holland's Richard Krajicek in the quarter-finals with typical contempt to secure consecutive wins over the next three years.
This year's tournament, more than most in recent years, has tested him to the full.
He wandered through with hardly so much as a by-your-leave. The Americans have been as besotted as the British by the retirement of Boris Becker, the renaissance of Andre Agassi, the birth of a new sensation in Alexandra Stevenson, and John McEnroe's mixed doubles magic.
Sampras's progress has simply followed its normal route, undisturbed, understated.
"It's been a strange Wimbledon," he said. "There's no magic formula for dealing with what happens when the schedule is disrupted, in fact, in my quarter-final against Mark Philippoussis, I didn't handle anything very well.
"I've never had a secret here at Wimbledon. I suppose it has helped having been here for 10 years, renting a house in the village, living the same kind of existence every year.
"I had a massage after the Philippoussis match, went home, rented a couple of videos, ate a nice dinner, went to bed, slept well. That's me."
Champion of champions
If he appears understated, his tennis is not. The record books continue to be filled with his exploits and his 1999 victory will send shivers down the spine of his rivals.
This was Sampras at his weakest, we were all told before the tournament began.
In the last 18 months, he had sustained a number of injuries and there were signs that the game was moving into a post-Sampras era.
Last year, Sampras won four titles, including Wimbledon where he beat Goran Ivanisevic in five service-battering sets, and handed over the number one spot to Marcelo Rios before winning it back at the year-end for a record sixth successive year.
The effort required to stay at the top for so long clearly took its toll on the 27-year-old, both physically and mentally.
His decision not to play Davis Cup for the US made him few friends and tennis seemed to give him little enjoyment in 1998 as he constantly complained about the drudgery of the tour.
It was brave decision to take some time off but it worked wonders for Sampras's psyche. "Not going to Australia was perhaps not the best decision as far as tennis is concerned but it was the best decision of my life," he said.
"I was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and I needed to take some time off."
"After all those years I felt like a robot," he said in May.
Doubters proved wrong
The bookmakers again made Sampras favourite for Wimbledon after his success at Queens. But the doubters remained sure that this time he would slip up.
He did not of course. And if one considers his history - in form or not - he should never be underestimated.
Whether he returns to defend his title next year remains to be seen. He has complained that he is tired of the tour.
"The older I get, I feel I want to start to enjoy more of what I'm doing," he said.
"You think, 'Is this worth it?' If you don't enjoy the victories, it's not. I've been at this level, this high level that people have come to expect from me, for a long time now.
"The expectation is flattering, in a way. But at times I want people to appreciate how difficult it has been."
Few could disagree.
No-one has done more on a tennis court than the mild-mannered American, a man whose name will live on for as long as the game is played.
LONDON - Pete Sampras rewrote tennis history in the Wimbledon dusk on Sunday, winning his seventh singles crown and a record 13th Grand Slam title 6-7 7-6 6-4 6-2 against Australia's Pat Rafter.
With the clock at 8.57 pm local time and light failing fast on Centre Court, a thunderous serve from Sampras on matchpoint forced Rafter to return into the net, etching the American's name into the record books.
Sampras had shared the 30-year-old record of 12 Grand Slam titles with Australia's Roy Emerson since winning Wimbledon last year. Now he stands alone and this record could last a lifetime.
The quiet American broke down, wiping tears from his eyes, as the Centre Court exploded in celebration.
"This is one of my best moments," he said after a match which lasted almost six hours after being twice interrupted by rain. "I'm still spinning, it's amazing."
"I love Wimbledon and I love the people here...this court is the best in the world." His seventh title - in eight years - equals a 19th century record set by Britain's William Renshaw.
The 28-year-old clambered into the stands to hug his parents Georgia and Sam who were witnessing, for the first time, their son winning a Grand Slam title.
"It means so much to me that my parents were here today," Sampras said. "They can share this with me," he said as hundreds of camera flashlights sparkled in the darkness.
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Willie Renshaw may have finally met his match.
The Englishman revolutionized lawn tennis in the 1880s and was the most dominant men's champion in Wimbledon history -- until now. Pete Sampras can equal Renshaw's record of seven titles by beating Australian Patrick Rafter in Sunday's final.
Sampras will also try for his 13th Grand Slam title, which would break the men's record he shares with Roy Emerson.
For one so young, the 28-year-old Sampras has an uncommon appreciation of tennis history, and he's well aware of his chance to make it.
"I'm not looking at Sunday as pressure," he said. "I'm looking at it as an opportunity."
Renshaw won his first Wimbledon title in 1881, three years after a rule change to permit overhand serves. In contrast to the style of play common at the time, he served hard and volleyed aggressively -- like Sampras more than a century later. Renshaw repeated as champion the next five years, and following a bout with tennis elbow won a seventh title in 1889.
But in that era the defending champion automatically advanced to the final, and Renshaw's record at the All England Club was just 22-3. Sampras has to slog through seven rounds every year, and his eight-year record at Wimbledon is 52-1.
"You don't want to play Pete at any time," Rafter said, "but especially not at Wimbledon."
When the 12th-seeded Rafter upset No. 2 Andre Agassi in a thrilling five-setter Friday, his parents scrambled to catch a flight from Australia for his first Wimbledon final. Also sure to be rooting for Rafter will be fellow Aussie Emerson, who faces the prospect of having his Grand Slam record surpassed by Sampras.
"I wouldn't say I was happy about it," said Emerson, 63. "But I will admit that if he does it, it's a terrific effort."
Emerson counts Wimbledon championships in 1964-65 among his 12 major titles. Sampras tied the record by winning Wimbledon last year.
"He's a great champion, and records are there to be broken," Emerson said. "You can't hold them forever."
Limping at times, the top-seeded Sampras is back in the final despite tendinitis above his left ankle. The injury prevented him from practicing for most of the tournament, but he benefited from an easy draw and breezed past qualifier Vladimir Voltchkov in the semifinals.
Sampras has complained that some players believe he exaggerated the severity of his injury. Emerson didn't address the subject, but it's interesting that he once explained the Australian code of sportsmanship this way: "You should never complain about an injury. We believe that if you play, then you aren't injured, and that's that."
The 12th-seeded Rafter has had health concerns of his own. The two-time U.S. Open champion is surprised to be playing for another Grand Slam title only nine months after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder.
"It's been a long road back," he said. "That's the most satisfying part about it. It has been probably a big shock. But I don't want to think about it right now. I want to go ahead with the job and put in my best on Sunday."
Sampras and Rafter both serve and volley, which means they'll pressure the return. The likely result will be few rallies and a match that boils down to a few pivotal points, which is when Sampras thrives.
"I'm not going out on a limb to say I think Pete's going to win," Agassi said.
In Wimbledon finals Sampras is 6-0, beating Agassi, Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Cedric Pioline and Goran Ivanisevic twice. Now he confronts Rafter -- and history.
"My legacy is really the last thing on my mind Sunday," Sampras said. "When you're competing, you're kind of on the inside, not looking on the outside. I'm sure two weeks from now, a month from now, 10 years from now, I can appreciate my career much more."
05-03-2005, 10:15 PM
Sampras lords it over Centre Court domain
By Paul Hayward
THERE is a line in Patrick Rafter's favourite film, Jerry Maguire, where a highly marketable American football star says to a beleaguered sports agent played by Tom Cruise: "You are hanging by a very thin thread."
Rafter might have recalled that passage last night when the unthinkable happened on Centre Court and Pete Sampras looked vulnerable in a Wimbledon men's final. Rafter, the "typical Aussie bloke", as his coach, Tony Roche, once described him, was 4-1 up in the second-set tie-break after taking the first 7-6. But then a double fault and a poor stroke let the six-times Wimbledon champion back into a rain-interrupted match. Tension was mounting.
The only word which adequately describes Pete Sampras's hold on Centre Court over the last eight years is tyrannical. All of us sports addicts make mental lists of athletes we will still be droning on about when our teeth need soaking in Steradent. Sampras ought to be on everybody's list. He is now officially the greatest player to have grabbed hold of a racket. "This is the best court in the world," Sampras said through tears that fell in place of the spiteful rain, "and I'd like to come back next year."
However boldly the invader marches on to his lawn on Wimbledon's final Sunday, Sampras is able to send out whichever version of himself is needed to quell the hostile incursion. Against Vladimir Voltchkov on Friday, he dispatched the low-wattage semi-final cruiser, conserving energy for his first match at the 2000 Championships against a fellow seed.
It was a strangely fragile and hesitant Sampras who re-emerged after the longest dreary downpour. The game itself was a mess of percussive spasms: serve-volley-serve. Neither player struck the ball with sufficient authority to suggest that the dry spells would yield a speedy winner. It was a sore shin against a dodgy shoulder. Yet this potentially ground-breaking encounter was kept on the emotional high-wire by the sense that Sampras was a faltering champion being held exasperatingly on history's cusp.
Proprietorial, vigilant, spikily defiant. Sampras is all these things when his dominion over the most sacred patch of turf in tennis is challenged. Even performing moderately, as he did for long phases through the fading evening light, he conveys the impression that he can shift into a higher dimension at any moment. His adversaries have to get past the aura before they start chipping away at the man.
Last year Andre Agassi burst out of the players' tunnel bug-eyed and intent on causing havoc with the champion's attempt to clinch a record-equalling 12th Grand Slam title. Sampras looked coldly across the net and unleashed a reign of terror. He was physically and psychologically dominant, punishing Agassi for his impertinence.
Only Rafter can know whether the brutal subjugation of Agassi 12 months ago swirled in his thoughts as Sampras set off after a place in legend. Every last swinger and swiper on the men's tour knows that to defeat Sampras on grass you have to destroy the certain knowledge he carries that when he is on song he is invincible. Sampras's passivity on court, his preference for not making eye contact with his opponent, accentuates his almost callous power.
Seldom has so much history overlain a men's final here at the peak of the English anti-summer, which has forced the crowd back for a 14th session for the first time since 1988. The first Open-era final was won by an Aussie, Rod Laver, who beat Roche in 1968. Sampras had been chasing a 13th Grand Slam crown for a full year after joining Roy Emerson with 12 by crushing Agassi last year. Only injury could have stopped Sampras stepping into that exalted realm.
There would have been romance either way. The elimination of Agassi on Friday deprived this final of the most potent match-up in men's tennis: the fizzing baseline power of Agassi against the all-round might and athleticism of Sampras. But Rafter's story was a worthy addition to the book of Wimbledon epics. A lover of surf and ski, a rock-climber and skydiver, he worked his way into the elite by camping with his mother at junior tournaments and later sleeping on wooden floors.
One of nine children, Rafter once kipped in one of those entrance halls where banks have started putting cash machines. Whether he was merely 'tired and emotional' is not recorded. "He plays hard and parties hard," Roche once said. Like Sampras, he has impressed with the quiet dignity he has brought to a sport where inflated incomes and the insular nature of the tour can distort perspective. On court, though, Sampras is no respecter of humility. The vocabulary he uses is one of ruthlessness and power.
It was the second-set tie-break before Sampras allowed signs of anguish to escape. A brief yelp was proof that for all his unwavering strength of concentration he needed Rafter's errors to help him back into the match. "I thought I was on my way to losing," he admitted. But Sampras is a towering champion, who has never been known to hand out second chances. Rafter, pottering nicely along, was still in a promising position with his one-set lead but was about to disappear in history's march. Sampras seized the next three sets in near-darkness and was then consumed by the magnitude of what he had achieved.
A short while back, he was asked why he shows so little of himself on court. He denied that he feels nothing, either in victory or defeat: "If you just look at what I have to give up and sacrifice in my daily life to compete at this level, it would be very weird if, in my own way, I wasn't ecstatic about winning." Last night, at 8.57pm, he was euphoric and overcome, hugging his parents and mopping away tears.
Hanging by a thin thread? For a while, yes, but it was only the golden twine of history.
LONDON, July 10 — Pete Sampras made tennis history at Wimbledon yesterday by beating Australian Pat Rafter 6-7, (10-12) 7-6, (7-5) 6-4, 6-2 to win the men’s final for the seventh time and claim a record-breaking 13th Grand Slam title. The 28-year-old defending champion and top seed flung his arms up in delight and wiped tears from his eyes after Rafter, twice US Open champion, put another huge Sampras serve wide on the first match point on Centre Court.
Finally, Pete Sampras walked into the history books doing what he does best and at a place that had already become his second home. Sampras beat the Australian Pat Rafter seeded 12 in four sets in the Wimbledon singles final giving him his incredible seventh title at the All-England Club and his 13th Grand Slam title overall. He was tied with Emerson’s 12 titles coming into the championships and he knew this was the best surface to do it and that time was running out. At age 28 and a chronic bad back, it was not going to be long before his chances of winning another title went away. So at 8.57 pm on Sunday night he completed his win and did what no man has ever done or is likely to do and took his place in history. William Renshaw won Wimbledon seven times in the 1880s but that was when they had the challenge round where the winner only match the final — once everyone else had through the draw and a challenger rose from among them. But today as we know it is seven rounds against the toughest competition.
The match itself came down to two tie-breaks and who would handle the rain delays well enough. With two of the best serve and volleyers in the world playing each other, one of them chasing history and the other desperate to be part of it, the men’s final appeared to have everything going for it. It was a contest between perfection and attraction — Sampras could never figure out what the public wanted from him while Rafter just had to smile and the crowd would melt before him. Sampras has been looking for the perfection that kept him at No 1 on the ATP ranking for so long and when he comes to the All-England Club his eyes usually light up and he knows he is at home. But this time was different. He came in with injuries and desperate to break Roy Emerson’s 12 Grand Slam titles record, he knew he was not really tested, in the first six rounds. He never played a seed till the final. He knew Rafter was going to be his biggest test. The match came down to the first two tie-breaks. The first one, in which Sampras had several chances to break in the set and two more in the tie-break, went Rafter’s way after two double faults from the champion. When he lost the first set tie-break 12/10, I thought maybe, just maybe, the enormity of the occasion might be too much even for Sampras.
In the second set, again, Sampras had chances to break but could not convert. It came down to the second set tie-break and when yet again he served the double fault to open and got down 1-4 with Rafter, to serve, I was sure my instincts were right. But I should have guessed that if Sampras was caught up in history then so was Rafter in his own way. There is no question that the Australian tightened up and his double fault came. Once the hurdle of the second set was crossed, Sampras knew his only danger was past. He became the Sampras of old and the winner, came freely of both flanks. The crucial break in the third set, started to see Sampras head for home, as Rafter had nothing more to offer. You could almost see Rafter settling for second place in his mind before the match ended. As Sampras sent down another rocket for a serve on match point, his feeling all came pouring out. A man who always maintained calmness through his first six Wimbledon victories broke down on Centre Court. Going up into the player’s box he hugged his parents watching him win here for the first time and took his place in the history.
Wimbledon continues to have the magic that will never end. I have always enjoyed coming here and it was wonderful to see history being rewritten with Sampras and the Williams family. — PMG
By the dying light, Pete Sampras served himself two huge pieces of history Sunday - a record-tying seventh Wimbledon and a 13th Grand Slam title that made him king of the slams.
Twinkling flashbulbs lit up Centre Court like fireworks in the night when Sampras kissed the trophy once again, his eyes glistening from the tears he had shed moments earlier after he whacked his final service winner to beat Patrick Rafter 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2.
Rarely emotional on court, Sampras showed how much this victory meant to him as he bent over in tears after the final point, then climbed up into the stands in a tearful embrace with his mother and father, watching him win a Grand Slam in person for the first time.
"I wanted them to be a part of it," the 28-year-old Sampras said. "As much as I like to say I'm going to be back here every year, there's no guarantees. Win or lose today, I was going to invite them here. I'm glad they hopped on the plane and made the trip."
Sam and Georgia Sampras flew in from Southern California only the day before and sat high above Centre Court to watch their son pass Roy Emerson for the most Grand Slam championships and tie Willie Renshaw, a player in the 1880s, for the most Wimbledon titles.
"Time will tell if it will be broken," Sampras said of the Grand Slam record. "I think in the modern game, it could be difficult. It's a lot of commitment, a lot of good playing at big times. It's possible. I mean, the next person might be 8 years old, hitting at a park somewhere around the world."
Sampras has won 28 straight matches at Wimbledon, extending his mark there to 53-1 over the past eight years.
"This is the greatest player ever at Wimbledon," former three-time champion John McEnroe said. "This guy's not someone you can put anyone up against, nobody. No one has ever come close to Pete."
Sampras is only the sixth player in history to win Wimbledon four straight years. The last to do it was Bjorn Borg, who won five straight from 1976-80.
No Wimbledon title had ever come with more pain and difficulty than Sampras suffered in this one, dealing with acute tendinitis above his left ankle from the second round on. He couldn't practice between matches, and couldn't warm up before them until the final. No final took longer to win or ended later than this one with four hours of rain delaying the start and interrupting play twice.
It ended at 8:57 p.m., after 3 hours, 2 minutes of actual play on a Centre Court that has no lights, and they could not have played much longer. If Rafter, the two-time U.S. Open champion, had won the fourth set, they would have had to return on Monday.
"It was difficult in the end," Sampras said. "We only had mybe 10 minutes left to playing. I think we both knew by 9 o'clock they were going to call it. It would have been a tough night of sleep.
"It's not easy to play out there under these conditions. The nerves, the emotional roller coaster we both went through today, coming back, on and off, on and off. It's just amazing how it all worked out. It really is amazing how this tournament just panned out for me. I didn't really feel like I was going to win here. I felt I was struggling."
Sampras had said before the match that as long as his right arm held up, he would be a threat. It held up fine. Rafter couldn't return Sampras' blur of serves in the afternoon, and he surely couldn't return them in the fading light. Sampras served 27 aces at up to 133 mph, and had 46 more unreturned serves as he averaged an incredible 123 mph on first serves.
Sampras faced only two break points and won once more without yielding a single game on his serve. Rafter couldn't break him in 21 service games, just as Boris Becker couldn't break him in 19 in 1995. In his seven title matches, Sampras has dropped serve only four times in 131 games.
The only time Sampras buckled was in the first-set tiebreaker. He had lost only four points on serve in the first set, three of them on double-faults, and double-faults came back to haunt in the tiebreaker. He hit one to fall behind 10-9, saved that set-point, but then lost the set with his fifth double-fault.
"We all choke," said Sampras, who wound up with 12 double-faults. "No matter who you are, you just get in the heat of the moment. The title could be won or lost in a matter of a couple of shots. I really felt it slipping away. I felt like I was outplaying him for the first set. I didn't get the break. I was outplaying him a little bit in the second. Comes down to a tiebreaker, anything can happen. Just roll the dice."
They rolled the dice in the second-set tiebreaker, and this time Rafter threw snake eyes. Serving with a 4-1 lead, he netted a volley, double-faulted, then netted a forehand to let Sampras tie it. Sampras then smacked a service winner and won his fifth straight point with a stunning inside-out forehand crosscourt that zipped past Rafter. Sampras punctuated the moment with a big uppercut in the air, his first demonstration of emotion in the match, and two points later he put the set away with a solid volley.
Right there, the match was virtually won.
"There's a lot of nerves out there," Sampras said. "We both were feeling it. I lost my nerve in the first set. He lost his nerve 4-1 in the second breaker. ... Somehow I got through that tiebreaker. From a matter of feeling like I was going to lose the match, I felt like I was going to win the match within two minutes. That's grass court tennis."
Rafter admitted the tension got to him in tat tiebreaker.
"I did get a little bit tight," he said. "It was an opportunity for me to go up two sets to love. From there it's a very tough position, as Pete knows, to come back from that. But that's what happens when you get tight."
When Sampras broke Rafter for the first time for a 3-2 lead in the third set, the Australian bounced his racket on its head twice as he headed for his chair. He had the look of a man staring at defeat, even if the end was more than an hour away. As the light faded, so did Rafter, going down another break, and going down hard.
"I wasn't getting his serve back anyway," Rafter said. "I didn't really care if it was midnight, really. When you're down 5-2 in the third, double break, mate, it's sort of hard work being out there. Mentally, I sort of had done my bolt."
MASON — See Pete ride water slides at The Beach. See Pete take batting practice with the Reds. See him blow out birthday candles, eat at Waffle House, go to Riverbend.
Pete Sampras is arguably the top player in tennis history, but when he's in Cincinnati, he isn't afraid to take in the town. He has made a point of making himself at home here.
The fact he usually sticks around in the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati draw hardly hurts.
“You always look forward to coming back to a place you play well,” he said.
Including his 6-4, 6-2 beating Tuesday of Mariano Zabaleta, Sampras is 35-8 (.814) here, including three championships. This week, he could surpass Michael Chang's total of 38 victories to become the tournament's winningest active player. Sampras' winning percentage is second only to Mats Wilander (36-7, .837) in the event's history.
Sampras is 27-4 (.871) here since 1991. There is only one place he has had as much success here during the same span: Wimbledon.
Sampras has been good to this tournament, and it has been good to him. His birthday annually falls during the event — he turns 29 Saturday — so he often celebrates here. Sampras even took time Monday to visit Cinergy Field, meeting some Reds and taking batting practice. (Tuesday Story)
“In Toronto (last week), I heard that was a possibility,” he said. “To meet Ken Griffey Jr., who is one of the all-time greats, and to see him hit a few out and be able to partake in some batting practice, it was great.”
Sampras never played baseball, so he said he was pleased to hit a couple of balls well. “Close to the warning track,” he said. “On a roll.”
Fact is, Sampras looks more relaxed now than ever. The obvious thinking is relief after setting a record with his 13th Grand Slam title last month at Wimbledon.
“Being with 11 or 12 Slams, people talked about the pressure of breaking the record,” he said. “I didn't look at it as pressure. Obviously I wanted to do it. Now that I did break it and I do have the unbelievable record put away, sure, it feels great. But now that I'm where I am, I'll try to add on to that.”
Sampras elected not to play in the Olympics next month because it's just 10 days after the U.S. Open concludes. As far as playing for his country, he said, Davis Cup represents his commitment.
Right now, his goal is to recapture top form on hard courts. Sampras took nearly a month off after Wimbledon before playing in the Tennis Masters Series Canada last week; he blew three match points in an eventual quarterfinal loss to Marat Safin.
“This is a Grand Slam type of atmosphere,” Sampras said. “When you can win here in Cincinnati, you know you're playing great going into the U.S. Open.”
Monday, 9 September, 2002,
Sampras cements place in history
By Caroline Cheese
BBC Sport Online
If ever there were any doubts about Pete Sampras' right to call himself the greatest, he crushed them in emphatic style with his epic four-set win over Andre Agassi for a fifth US Open title.
Facing his long-time rival, the only man to have challenged his dominance in the 90s, Sampras somehow summoned a performance which overshadowed all his previous 13 Grand Slam triumphs.
For two and a half sets, a sentimental New York crowd were treated to the kind of breathtaking serve-volleying which had seen Sampras climb to the pinnacle of world tennis in 1993 and stay there for six years.
Sampras' serve, once one of the most feared in tennis, was suddenly impregnable even to one of the game's greatest returners.
And once that was firing, the rest of Sampras' game clicked seamlessly back into place.
Such was the devastation wreaked by Sampras that the crowd, desperate for more entertainment, threw their weight behind Agassi.
It was just like the good old days when tennis crowds became bored of Sampras' procession of titles and would always support his opponent, more out of sympathy than hope.
Only in the last two years has Sampras found himself back in favour during a barren spell which has seen him slump to a series of new and shocking lows.
The most painful came at Wimbledon this year where in the second round he was beaten by 'lucky loser' George Bastl, a player who can most favourably be described as a journeyman.
A shell-shocked Sampras afterwards spoke of his belief that he was merely short on confidence and that he would be back for another shot at the title he had won a record seven times.
"I'm not going to give into the critics - I'll stop on my own terms," he said.
"What I've done here and what I've done to the game is always going to stick no matter what happens in the next few years. But I still believe I have a major in me."
But to the majority of observers, it was the forlorn cry of a proud champion who would not accept the passing of time.
Having suffered moral-crushing defeats to 20-year-old opponents, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt, in the previous two US Open finals, many might have taken the hint that their time was up.
After two run-of-the-mill matches at this year's US Open, he faced an in-form and fired-up Greg Rusedski in the third round.
Driven on by a wildly partisan crowd, Sampras scraped a five-set win which gave no indication of the fireworks he was about to produce.
Rusedski afterwards became the first of Sampras' contemporaries to say that he was no longer the player he once was, adding that he was a "a step-and-a-half slower" getting to the net.
But though Rusedski might have saved his comments for a situation in which he would have avoided the accusations of sour grapes, the British number two did not seem to be too wide of the mark.
Having lost the spring on his serve, Sampras was no longer the imposing figure who would rush the net before dispatching the easy volley.
It was evident as far back as 2001 in his defeat to Roger Federer at Wimbledon that Sampras was having to pick too many half-volleys off his toes.
Most observers attributed it to his age but Sampras' performances at Flushing Meadows from the fourth round onwards told a different story.
His confidence flooding back, Sampras returned to the player of old, winning points with a swinging serve and crisp volley and demoralising opponents with his ability to produce an ace at the scent of danger.
And against Agassi, in a final played in an emotionally charged atmosphere days ahead of the 11 September anniversary, he lifted the bar once again.
Sampras will not be drawn on his future, but after leaving those who pushed for his retirement red-faced with the emphatic nature of his victory, he has ensured that the decision will be left entirely in the hands of the legend himself.
Newly crowned US Open champion Pete Sampras said his 14th Grand Slam triumph was probably his best ever.
The four-set win over Andre Agassi on Sunday moved Sampras to compare it with victory at Wimbledon in 2000 when he captured a record 13th Grand Slam title.
Sampras had not won a Grand Slam since his last Wimbledon triumph and this season had slumped in the world rankings in what had been his worst year.
To beat a rival like Andre at the US Open, a story book ending, it might be nice to stop
But on Sunday he defied the form book and his critics as he rolled back the years for a vintage Sampras performance.
"This one might take the cake," said Sampras.
"I never thought anything would surpass what happened at Wimbledon a couple of years ago, but the way I've been going this year, to come through this and play the way I did today, it was awesome."
Sampras, whose wife Bridgette Wilson is expecting their first baby, thanked his family and friends for their support through what he admitted had been a trying time.
"I got through it with a lot of support from my wife, from my family, working with Paul [Annacone, Sampras' coach] again.
"So much of kind of what I was going through this year was mental. It wasn't forehands and backhands and serves. I kind of got down on myself extremely quick out there.
"All I could do after Wimbledon was start working again, get back to the drawing board and start doing the running and the practicing. And it paid off this week."
Sampras, who was urged to retire by many during his two-year title drought, refused to be drawn on his future but admitted that he would find it hard to surpass winning a US Open final against his greatest rival.
"I'm going to have to weigh it up in the next couple of months to see where I'm at," he said.
"I still want to play. I love to play. But to beat a rival like Andre in a major tournament at the US Open, a story book ending, it might be nice to stop."
Sampras said that he and Agassi had shared a special moment as the two hugged at the net after the match ended.
"No disrespect to anyone I've played over the years, but he's the best I've ever played," he said.
"He has that extra gear that is very tough to play against. Those moments are great moments. It's about competing against the best. He still is one of the best."
Agassi, who has lost four out of five Grand Slam finals to Sampras, said Sampras' ability to produce a winning serve at crucial moments had been the difference.
He said: "He's a good pressure point player. He senses the important times of a match and puts pressure on you, then elevates his game."
"He can play for an hour where you don't even break a sweat sometimes because he's just taking the rhythm out of the match.
"Then all of a sudden he plays a good game and he's off."
05-17-2005, 11:00 PM
History in the making for Pete and Pat
LONDON, JULY 8. When they come to write a definitive history of tennis they'd better leave a sizeable appendix to list all of Pete Sampras' achievements, especially if he sees off Aussie crowd-pleaser Patrick Rafter in Sunday's Wimbledon singles final.
Champions come and go but precious few have made the tournament their own the way that the 28-year-old from Washington DC has done with six wins to his credit in the past seven years - and a seventh within his grasp, as well as 62 career titles to date.
But it's not just about history in the making on a patch of turf that will be forever southwest London - because Sampras will kill two historical birds with one stone if he can beat the 12th- seeded Queenslander, cast in the role of spoiler.
Another trophy will do far more than merely bring him level with William Renshaw, star of the Victorian era in an age where challenge rounds easily enabled champions to walk off with more spoils.
It will give Sampras a 13th Grand Slam title - leaving him out on his own in history as he currently shares the record on 12 with Australian great Roy Emerson.
Sampras has been waiting for this moment with bated breath after enduring his annual - almost ritual - French Open humiliation on the slow clay of Roland Garros and that title seems set to elude him permanently.
No matter, because even if U.S. rival Andre Agassi completed the set last year in Paris, the shaven-headed Las Vegan will not get the chance to gain revenge for Sampras' victory here 12 months ago because an inspired Rafter got in the way in a wonderful five-set semifinal.
Sampras had it slightly easier as he followed Rafter and Agassi onto his `second home' of Centre Court to end the dreams of qualifier Vladimir Voltchkov of Belarus in straight sets.
Rafter, who turned the tables on Agassi after losing last year's semifinal to the same player, will be playing only his third Grand Slam final - but he's done alright so far with two successes in the U.S. Open.
And having shown Agassi the door, just as he did three years ago at Flushing Meadow, Rafter will be bidding to become the first Australian to win the crown here since Pat Cash 13 years ago.
Sampras' level of experience is, however, on a different plane to that of Rafter. The American will be playing in his 15th Grand Slam final and to date he has lost just two - the 1995 Australian Open final and the 1992 U.S. Open.
Despite his recent shin injury he is ready for the challenge. ``I'm ecstatic to be in the final - but it won't be easy. It's been a struggle but I'm still here,`` said Sampras alluding to his shin injury suffered in the second round on the way to defeating Karol Kucera.
''At this stage of my career this is what I'm playing for. It means a lot. I just know this is my last match - mentally that feels good.
``You just let it all hang out, just go out there and not think about it,'' said Sampras, saying thoughts of the record had to be put to the back of his mind. ``The adrenalin and the occasion can really get you through a lot of tough situations on court.''
Rafter, like Sampras, has had his injury scares and has had a long road back after arthroscopic shoulder surgery last autumn. But against Agassi it looked as if that was all behind him.
``It's been a long road back - I think that's the most satisfying part about it. I want to go ahead with the job and put in my best on Sunday,'' he said.
``Against Pete you've really got to take your chances - you've got to get his serve back somehow.
''We've had some great battles and he's won most of them. But I have had my couple of wins over him. I've just got to try to be relaxed.``
Sampras has beaten Rafter in nine of 13 previous meetings - but they have never met on grass.
The two finalists fell out for a while after the Aussie beat Sampras in Cincinnati two years ago and was then quoted as saying that ''it's always nice to beat Pete. I get an incredible amount of enjoyment from being on top of him in a match and pretty well just annoying him.``
But Sampras said that any problem between the two was history - that word again.
Pete Sampras made Centre Court his own in the nineties, although he did not have the best of beginnings in SW19.
The American won only one match in his first three years at Wimbledon before things came right, and in some style.
In the 1993 final he beat the then world number one, Jim Courier, having already dismissed Andre Agassi and Boris Becker in previous rounds.
From then on, of course, 'Pistol Pete' dominated successive tournaments winning seven titles in eight years.
Although his early losses proved puzzling to a man who had won the US Open at the age of 19 his serve-volley game eventually proved almost unbeatable.
From victory in the first round in 1993 to his last title win in 2000 he lost only one match in 1996, a quarter-final defeat to eventual winner Richard Krajicek.
That defeat split his haul into three titles in the early nineties, and four in the run up to the millennium.
After seeing off Courier in 1993, Sampras saw off Goran Ivanisevic and Boris Becker.
And following his failure in 1996 he lost only three sets, all tie-breaks, en route to the final where he comfortably beat Cedric Pioline.
Ivanisevic was the only man who took Sampras the distance in any of his Centre Court finals, but again the Croat came up short, as Andre Agassi and Pat Rafter did in 1999 and 2000.
Sampras may not have gone for quite the pace of an Ivanisevic or Greg Rusedski on his serve, but its accuracy, disguise and above all consistency, made it far and away the best the game has ever seen.
Similarly, Stefan Edberg could claim to have been a better volleyer and Rafter a superior athlete, but no one ever put it all together like Sampras on grass.
The American also boasted fierce groundstrokes, a sensational jump smash and a will to win that saw him play through injury and sickness on a regular basis.
These are all reasons why Sampras has won more Grand Slams than anyone else and was voted the best player in the history of the Association of Tennis Professionals.
If any of Sampras' games are forgettable, which many are, it is because he was so far ahead of the rest, they could barely give him a game.
05-27-2005, 08:43 PM
Monday, August 25
Sampras walking away in perfect form
By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com
It was just the longest, strangest, most drawn-out, least ultimately surprising thing in the world. It took a year to happen and had the distinct air of anticlimax when it finally did.
Pete Sampras' retirement Monday from world championship tennis, that is, was every bit as clumsy and lurching as the retirements of just about every elite athlete in the history of the world. Who knew? It may be one of the only times in Sampras' career that he came close to landing squarely on Average.
It won't matter in the long view, of course; Sampras' body of work is too strong for that. The fact that he spent the last 12 months in a sort of gradual fade from the tennis eye, occasionally checking his competitive fire as if to be sure it really was diminishing as much as he thought, will almost certainly be glossed over in any recounting of his career.
And deservedly so. The decision by Sampras to make his exit official at the U.S. Open is enough to underscore that; Flushing Meadow, after all, was the site of some of Sampras' greatest moments in the game, from the gut-wrenching to the gut-losing. When he yanked himself upright last summer after months in a seeming slouch and ran the table to win the Open, there was a body of thought that he ought to call it quits right then and there. It was as close to a perfect ending as any athlete ever gets.
Sampras did that, and he didn't. The Open remains his final championship, a fitting testament to the work of a player whose brilliance may never be fully appreciated because he generally brought so little public personality to go along with it. But it took Sampras a calendar year to get adjusted to the notion that Flushing really was the final hurrah.
And welcome to the human race, Elite Level. It's an old saw that I only repeat because of its essential truth: The only thing more difficult than crafting a truly memorable career in sports is knowing when to walk away from it.
It's hard to believe anymore in that perfect ending, if only because we're constantly barraged by examples to the contrary. The reality is that, even for the great ones, figuring out how to exit the stage can become just an excruciating process.
The Michael Jordan thing has been done to death, so, naturally, we'll revisit it here -- if only because Jordan really did have that magical ending in his hands, that shot over Bryon Russell to beat Utah and win the Bulls' sixth NBA championship of the Jordan era. Michael had the how and maybe even the why, but not the when; he simply wasn't ready to quit. And so he got what he got, and so did we, and you'll never convince me for even a minute that the Washington postscript was anything other than a bad pizza dream -- no lethal damage, maybe, but, heavens, what an odor.
You get a John Elway once in a while, but only that. Elway won his second Super Bowl for Denver, and then he and his wife climbed into a chopper and lifted up into the skies above Miami, and that was pretty much that. Oh, there were loose ends and such, and Elway did take as much time as he could before making anything official; but a great ending is a great ending.
Rare, too. While Sampras may have unintentionally teased his fans and the tennis public by flirting every now and again with a return to the court, he seemed to have a sure sense throughout the past 12 months of his own level of readiness. Give Pete credit: He did not, at any time, go out to play championship tennis just because. He never purposely walked his B game out onto the court. Watching Michael Chang struggle so much in his painful farewell tour after a career of genuine contribution to men's tennis, you figure Sampras had it right, straight down the line.
He's married. He is a father. He is content, or at least as content as any intensely competitive athlete can ever really be outside the arena. It just took Sampras a year to be sure of all that -- or, perhaps, to be sure he was ready to tell the world what he already knew.
I always loved the Ted Williams walkoff, but then so did the rest of sporting America. They wrote prose and poetry about it, the home run sailing through the Fenway Park air, Williams rounding the bases expressionlessly and going into the Boston dugout, essentially never to return. John Updike isn't generally moved to sportswriting, put it that way.
Less known, but of equal importance to the conversation here, is the idea that Williams understood a classic ending when he achieved it. The Red Sox actually had another series left that season, on the road against the Yankees. Ted Williams declined to travel to New York. He had had his last at-bat.
Seeing the sad turns the Williams saga has taken lately, one is struck by the thought that perhaps in this life nobody really gets away clean. That's a lament for another day. We come not to bury Pete Sampras, at any rate. What tennis history will record is that a great champion, an epic champion, won the U.S. Open as his final competitive act, then walked away.
Those 12 months in between might just as well not have happened, at least as Sampras' history matters. Good enough. This was maybe as awkward as any other exit in sports, but in the end Sampras got it right. Given the routine excellence of his career, it shouldn't be surprising.
Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com
06-01-2005, 08:34 PM
Sampras shows vintage game in winning U.S. Open title
By Greg Boeck, USA TODAY
NEW YORK — In their storied careers, they have played matches now savored as classics in TV rerun land. On Sunday, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, tennis legends near the end of their championship runs, authored another classic, this one in real time.
Defying his 31 years, leg-sapping fatigue, some bad calls, critics who said he was finished and a never-give-up opponent he's fought for two decades, Sampras grand-slammed his two-year winless drought with a dogged 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 victory. The win delivered his fifth U.S. Open championship and 14th Grand Slam title, adding to his record total and unquestionably the unlikeliest of his career.
And the most satisfying. "This one might take the cake," he said. "I never thought anything would surpass Wimbledon a couple years ago. But the way this year has been going, to come through with this. ... I'm glad it's over."
He came to Flushing Meadows winless in 33 tournaments since his history-making 13th Slam title at Wimbledon in 2000. Seeded 17th, he was not considered a serious threat, even here, where he had advanced to the final the previous two years.
But he aced everybody, lastly his respected rival in the 34th edition of their battles. "I guess I'm back," he said.
Agassi is a year older than Sampras, which made this all-American climax the first U.S. Open final between two 30-something men in the Open Era. They didn't play old.
Sampras turned to his heat-seeking serve and buried Agassi under 33 aces. "To beat Andre, at the U.S. Open in a storybook finish, it might be nice to stop," said Sampras. "But I still want to compete. I'll see in a couple months."
The two tennis warriors, who had silenced naysayers by blazing into the finals, leaving younger wannabes and the world No. 1 in their wake, wrapped an arm around each other at the end. It was the fifth and possibly last time they'll play in a Slam final. "It was special," said Agassi, who had outwilled 21-year old defending champion Lleyton Hewitt in Saturday's semifinals.
For Sampras, it was redemptive. Through his struggles, he has consistently maintained he had another Grand Slam win in him. He raised his arms in celebration and flashed a smile of satisfaction and relief.
Then he waded into the stands, where he found his wife, actress Bridgette Wilson who is expecting their first child, and collapsed in her arms.
06-04-2005, 06:58 PM
Super Sampras Makes History
Pete Sampras claimed his rightful place in tennis history with a sixth Wimbledon title after a straight sets win over Andre Agassi.
The 27-year-old American defeated his compatriot and world number one Agassi 6-3 6-4 7-5 on Centre Court for his sixth win at the All England Club in seven years.
It means Sampras is the most successful player of the modern era and second only to William Renshaw, who won seven titles between 1881 and 1889.
And the surprisingly straightforward victory also sees him equal Roy Emerson's record of 12 career Grand Slam titles.
"It feels great," said Sampras. "I love it out there on Centre Court.
"I don't know why but this tournament brings out the best in me. The atmosphere is phenomenal.
"There is no question this is our biggest tournament and to beat Andre on the Fourth of July is pretty sweet."
Sampras, who lost his top spot in the world rankings to Agassi despite his victory, was always on top after saving three break points in the sixth game before breaking Agassi in the next game and then taking the opening set 6-3.
He had not looked on top form on his way to the final - admitting Mark Philippoussis was 'kicking his butt' before being forced to retire through injury in the quarter-finals - but the chance of equalling Emerson's record brought the best out of the top seed.
After taking the first set he consolidated his advantage with another break of serve in the very first game of the second set when Agassi hit a simple volley into the net.
Agassi, attempting to become the first player since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon crowns in the same year, battled as hard as ever but found himself matched by Sampras from the back of the court as well as the net.
The normally laid back Sampras roared his delight when he won the match, and threw his arms in the air in triumph, before also throwing his shirt into the crowd.
06-04-2005, 07:03 PM
GOD OF BIG THINGS
"The higher you soar the smaller you appear to those who cannot fly." - Friedrich Nietzsche
THE man called Joker was right. Pete Sampras is history. Greg Rusedski was right. Pete Sampras is done. The Canadian-born Briton was right. Pete Sampras is slow. Rusedski was on the mark. Pete Sampras is old, a father to be soon.
He was, after all, giving voice to a belief that he shared with a lot of other players on the tour, an opinion that many a critic has brought to print, has aired on television.
They were all right. As a Grand Slam champion, Pete Sampras is history.
Is this the same Pete Sampras who, last fortnight, at age 31 and in front of a passionate crowd at the National Tennis Center in New York beat one of the all-time greats of the game - Andre Agassi - in the US Open final and then climbed into the stands to share an intimate moment with his heavily pregnant wife Bridgette Wilson Sampras?
Of course, it is. Yet, Greg Rusedski and all the others who swore that such an event would never happen again in Sampras's career were all right.
They were right because they said what seemed logical from their point of view. They were right because, they judged within the ambit of their own knowledge and experience. They were right because, given their limitations, they could not have said anything different.
That the Rusedski point of view is pedestrian is besides the point. That he - and all the others who sought to write off the greatest tennis player that ever lived - knows nothing about surpassing genius is hardly relevant.
What is relevant is this: it takes a touch of greatness to peek into the soul of the sort of greatness symbolised by Sampras and see it for what it is, see it for what it is capable of, see it for its timeless quality and transcendental brilliance. Average men with average thought patterns like Rusdeski's will never enjoy that privilege.
Then again, to hell with Rusdeski and his ilk. We are not here to bury them. We are here to praise one of the greatest athletes in the history of sport, to celebrate one of the greatest moments of his remarkable career, to marvel at a revival that is nothing short of the epic.
Who would have believed this was possible? Who - other than the great man himself - would have thought that an ageing legend who had lost to George No Name (Bastl) in the second round at Wimbledon last June and then sat slumped in his chair staring at the turf for a long, long time would win a fifth U.S.Open title 12 years after his first as a 19-year-old?
During the fourth and fifth sets of that match, Sampras pulled out a note written by his wife to inspire him and read it again and again. "My husband, 7 time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras," began the note. It was a touching moment but it failed to save Sampras ignominy on that day.
Long years spent in the trenches of sportswriting provide a person with an armour of impassivity. While you readily describe an event with passion and hold a mirror to the emotions played out on a sports field, you seldom let the events shake you up. You feel, yet you don't feel. You are moved, yet you are not moved.
In my career, that afternoon at Wimbledon was an exception. I simply could not believe something like that could have happened to Sampras, that the lord and master of lawn tennis could be so humbled by a man who made the main draw as a lucky loser after being eliminated in the qualifying rounds. Later that evening, in the press mini bus that drove us back to Central London, an Italian journalist said to me: "I guess this is it. Pete will never come back here again. It's all over."
I flashed a wan smile and said to myself, "Maybe he is right." Yet, as the hauntingly poignant image of the great man sitting, shoulders slumped, on the No.2 court played itself out again and again in my mind, I was hoping against all hope that the great man would somehow author a miracle.
But, then, truth to tell, for all the elements of the unexpected contained in the dramatic events of the second week at Flushing Meadows, Grand Slam title No.14 for Pete Sampras was no miracle. It was just that the great man finally overcame the biggest slump of his career, and did so against all odds.
It would have been a miracle if a lesser man had done what Sampras did, go without a single title for more than two years and then beat players of the calibre of Tommy Haas, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi to win the U.S.Open.
But Sampras needs no miracles to win. He just needs about 80 per cent of his game. Yes, 80 per cent. Not even 100 per cent.
Having watched him from the time he beat a resurgent John McEnroe in the semifinals and then Andre Agassi in the final to win his first Grand Slam title in New York in 1990, having watched him win seven Wimbledon titles and two Australian Open titles, one can say this much with conviction: Sampras at 80 per cent will beat Andre Agassi at 100 per cent in five sets on a fast court. And he only needs to be at 70 per cent to beat any of the other active players in the game!
And what happens when Sampras plays at 100 per cent? As Agassi, his greatest rival, said after losing the 1999 Wimbledon final in straight sets, Pete walks on water.
A majority of tennis critics and a vast majority of fans have a natural tendency to favour matches of intense drama. Five set epics stay in the mind longer. The Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe classic of 1980 at Wimbledon, the Goran Ivanisevic-Pat Rafter thriller last year... these are the kind of matches that appeal to many.
But, in my mind, there is no greater match than the one in which Sampras outclassed an inspired Agassi in the 1999 Wimbledon final. From the time he was challenged on serve (down 0-40) midway in the first set to the time that he eased on the pedal just that bit late in the third set, Sampras put on an exhibition of tennis that would have been impossible even to dream of, if it had not actually been enacted in front of our eyes.
As the great man probed the very limits of athletic and artistic excellence, you sat in awe, often pinching yourself, and still wondering if it was a dream from which you'd soon wake up.
"Can anyone really play tennis like this" asked a French tennis writer, eyes wide, in the press box.
Well, Pete Sampras can. Pete Sampras did. And it was precisely because of that it was hard to digest the events of the last two seasons when the great man huffed and puffed to defeats against mere mortals.
Looking back, for a couple of years, Sampras has had a problem. After winning a record 13 Grand Slam titles, after winning a record seven Wimbledon titles, after finishing No.1 for a record six years, there was no new peak to scale, no one to beat, nothing to prove, no challenge to meet.
What does a mountaineer do after conquering the Everest? Everything else begins to look meaningless, pedestrian, unworthy of great effort.
And what does a tennis champion do after becoming the winningest Grand Slam champion of all time, after spending more weeks at No.1 than anyone else in history, after having dominated the spiritual home of tennis - Wimbledon - like no other player?
Maybe simply ease his foot off the pedal, find the woman of his dreams to marry, chill out a bit and soak up life outside the cauldron of tennis.
Sampras did just that. But, then, not much later, he wasn't the Sampras we knew anymore on a tennis court. Tom Who, Dick What and Harry Who's That started stepping on the court believing they can beat the great man. And many of them did too as Sampras went without a title in 33 tournaments over 26 months.
In Grand Slam after Grand Slam, as he said that he still felt he had another major or two left in him - after losing to lesser men - few were willing to believe him. It looked like the great man was chasing rainbows.
But like Muhammad Ali in another era, through all the traumatic events in the twilight of his career, Sampras continued to believe in himself, sure in his mind that he can recreate the magic of the past at least one more time.
After making the quarterfinals in New York, beating Haas, Sampras was asked for his reaction to Rusedski's comments following their third round match. And the great man said, "The things which Greg says don't faze me. I know what I can do out there. I don't have to prove people wrong. That's not why I am playing. I am playing to challenge myself and see if I can do it again."
That, dear readers, is the one true sign of surpassing greatness - how successfully you can challenge yourself when all other challenges have been met and mastered.
Ernest Hemingway trying to write a book that is even better than The Old Man and the Sea, the painter Vincent Van Gogh trying to come up with a work of art that can surpass the Sunflowers... the self-surpassing process is the ultimate yardstick of greatness.
This is a business that is bloody tough for an athlete with a limited shelf life. For, by the time you have begun to challenge yourself - after having overcome every other challenge - your legs are weary, your motivation runs low and the sportsman's biggest enemy, Time, is ready to take its pound of flesh, so to say.
Then, suddenly, you are back in the trenches again, as Sampras was. In the strange business of life, just when you think you have nothing to prove, it turns out there is everything to prove, to yourself more than others.
And, at New York on that Sunday, the greatest tennis player that ever lived did prove a point - to himself. He proved that he can challenge himself and come out on top. Surely, it was his greatest victory. For, on that day, Pete Sampras beat Pete Sampras. And, to Pete Sampras now, that is the only player worth challenging, and beating !
06-11-2005, 08:16 PM
The one & only Pete Sampras
By NIRMAL SHEKAR, Sportstar (from the publishers of The Hindu)
AND then he cried. His ears shut to the roar of the crowd, bent down and
his face hidden from the hundreds of flashbulbs that popped simultaneously,
shining through the evening gloom and turning the court into a Michael Jackson
stage, his mind benumbed by the monumental meaning of the moment, he broke
into tears, weeping like a child.
Who was this? This couldn't be him. This couldn't be Mr.Cool, the poker-faced
robot that unfailingly turned up on the second Sunday of the Wimbledon
fortnight, scorched the green, green earth of one of the most famous pieces of sports
real estates in the world, pummelled flesh-and-blood opponents into submission
and walked away with the Challenge Cup.
And again he sobbed.
Wiping the tears trickling down from his eyes with his shirtsleeves as the
whole world watched him, Mr.Ice Man melted, swirling in a warm emotional
Who was this? This couldn't be Pete Sampras! This couldn't be the
ice-in-his-veins master pro who kept his emotions - if he felt any - to himself as he blew
opponent after opponent off the centre court at Wimbledon while winning title after
title on the famous lawns.
Was it a Sampras look-alike, tongue lolling out, head stooped, who did a
fair imitation of the champion with the iron mask but, then, at the moment
of triumph couldn't keep up the act anymore, the greasepaint melting away to
show the imposter for who he was?
What folly! How vulnerable we are when it comes to myths in the world of
sport! How ready we are to swallow what is passed on as popular perception!
Indeed, it was the great Pete Sampras standing out there on a piece of turf
that he could claim to be his own on that unforgettable Sunday evening at
Wimbledon, shortly before 9 p.m., when he left every other great player, or legend if
you like, who played the game before him some way behind.
It was not that the mask had slipped. For, there never was a mask in the
first place. It was merely that a very private man was so overwhelmed by the
enormity of a moment of history unparalleled in the sport of his choice that
he could no longer guard the privacy of his emotional psyche.
Really, it was as simple as that. With Sampras, it has always been as simple
as that. Of all the great sportsmen we might have seen in the high noon of
modern professional sport, there is no more uncomplicated legend than Sampras.
He is a simple genius - if this is a contradiction in terms, then so be it.
He is the boy-next-door who became one of the true giants of modern sport and
never lost his boy-next-door simplicity and humility.
The problem is, of course, with us - with the fans, with the media, with
everybody who follows sport. In a world of Maradonas and Laras and Tysons,
we have come to expect the greatest of sporting icons - well, we seem to almost
will them to - to be complicated two-faced supermen.
Or, in the least, we expect them to give us a lot more than what their
primary - and perhaps only - role would suggest they would. Yes, Sampras is a great
tennis player. And yes, Sampras plays great tennis. The question is, is that
all there is to him?
Spoilt by the likes of Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, many
of us no longer seem to be able to yearn for the purists' joy derived from
sporting excellence. Led down the garden path by greedy image makers in a
multi-million dollar business, we have come to believe that great sportsmen, as entertainers,
should have "personality" - which, almost always, means they have to be brash
Would Sampras be perceived as a greater champion than he is if he were to
make finger gestures to the crowds a la Connors? Would he be a bigger megastar
than he is if he were to blow kisses north, west, south and east on the courts
after each victory a la Agassi?
Yes, of course, he would be. Perhaps he could have earned a few million
more in endorsements and made a lot more headlines for the wrong reasons. But
that is not what Sampras wanted. He never played for the millions, nor for
He played to be the greatest player there ever was. And, in gathering
darkness on the greatest stage in the game on that historic Sunday, he came to be widely
acknowledged as the best player to ever pick up a racquet.
"Sampras is the greatest of all time and I give him a pat on his back for
getting there, because the tournaments are a little deeper these days," said
Roy Emerson, with whom Sampras had shared the Grand Slam record (12) for a
year until this year's Wimbledon.
Little wonder that, for once, the great man could no longer contain his
emotions. For him, it had been a very, very difficult two weeks at Wimbledon.
A painful injury to his left shin reduced him to helplessness early in the
first week but the great man courageously continued to do battle.
"If it was not Wimbledon, if it was another event, I don't think I would
have played," Sampras admitted after beating Pat Rafter in four sets in the
final on that rain-hit Sunday to break his tie with Roy Emerson and pick up
his 13th Grand Slam title, and his seventh at Wimbledon.
A man with a great sense of occasion, of history, Sampras would not have
wanted the world record to come anywhere other than on a court where he has
won 53 of 54 matches in the last eight years.
"This court is very special. This is my home away from home. And this is
a great moment in my life," said Sampras. "It hasn't hit me. It won't hit me
for months. I am just kind of still spinning a little bit."
On the other hand, maybe it has not hit us, too, for what it really it.
Maybe it won't for months, even years to come. Don Bradman's contemporaries,
for all the praise they heaped on him, seldom realised the historic significance
of his achievements. But we know now, for sure, that no batsman of our time,
or any time, will ever be quite as prolific a run getter in Tests.
In the event, long after Sampras' career is done, long after this generation
of tennis players has passed into history, we will perhaps tell our
grandchildren stories of the greatest's unmatched excellence on court, and not the least
of the day the Greek-American's emotional roller-coaster ride in the 2000
Wimbledon championships climaxed in semi-darkness to mark the beginning of a new chapter
in the sport's history, its record books.
"Pete, in my eyes, goes down as the greatest player ever," acknowledged
Rafter, after coming rather close to ending Sampras' domination of the Wimbledon turf.
Playing the best grass court tennis of his career - and for the first time
in many months free of any injury worries - the handsome Australian received
a huge boost to his morale on beating Andre Agassi in a thrilling five-set
And he seemed to be picking to playing just such an impressive brand of
serve-volley tennis in the final too as he staved off breakpoint after
breakpoint in a rare show of defiance and raw courage in the first and second sets.
Having taken the first on a tiebreaker where Sampras double faulted twice
in a row in the end, Rafter was three points away, two of them on serve, from
opening up a two-sets-to-love lead as he was ahead 4-1 in the second set
"When he was serving at 4-1 I really felt it was slipping away," said Sampras.
"He lost his nerve there. We were both feeling it. I lost my nerve in the first
set," he said.
The difference between the greatest of champions and the ones that are just
great players - which, of course, in this context simply means the difference
between Sampras and Rafter - is that the latter breed more often than not will
lose their nerve at the crunch.
And, as he has done many, many times in the past, Sampras found a way out
as only he can, first breaking down Rafter's resolve, and then his serve.
But people who know Sampras, what he can do in a Wimbledon final, knew the
moment he had won the second set that the match was over. And indeed it was,
in rather quick time, once Sampras broke Rafter's serve in the fifth game of
the third set.
"With a great champion like Pete, you have to take your chances. I got mine
and did not take them," said Rafter.
In the second set, Sampras got his, to become the most successful champion
in history. And he took it and never looked back.
What's left for you to accomplish in tennis now? he was asked at the
post-match press conference.
"From an achievement standpoint I have done what I wanted to do. But I still
love competing and I love playing," said Sampras.
Should this love affair continue through a few more seasons, who knows how
many major titles the great man will end up with!
And, for that matter, who knows too, how many this year's woman's champion
will collect in the years to come!
Having soaked up the enormity of her achievement in the company of her father
and sister, and a few close friends, Venus Williams sat there smugly self-assured
on that Saturday, a young woman who knew the world was at her feet and was
quite in control of herself and her emotions in the finest moment of her life.
"Can you appreciate how hard it would have been for Althea Gibson," asked
a questioner at the post-match press conference, referring to the first black
woman to win the Wimbledon title 43 years ago.
"Yeah, it had to be hard because people were unable to see past colour,"
said Venus Williams, champion of the millennium Wimbledon championship. "It's
hardly any different these days. How can you change centuries of being biased
in 40 years. Realistically, not too much has changed," she said.
Across the Atlantic, in a dilapidated apartment block in New Jersey, a frail
Gibson, a winner on court but bruised an beaten through a life of hardship
and living alone now on the fringes of poverty, would have worked up a sardonic
smile had she heard what her African-American successor had to say.
For, Gibson, who picked up small change for winning the title in 1957 and
1958 in the form of a shopping vouchers that would have helped her buy a few
cheap souvenirs to take back home, would have hardly felt liberated enough -
in an era when oppression of blacks was still a fact of life in the United
States - to have climbed the stands and celebrate with her family as did Venus
after her victory over Lindsay Davenport.
As a sermon in race relations, Venus Williams' observation might have some
truth. For, real equality between the races is still a dream rather than reality
in American social life. But, a lot has changed indeed since Gibson won a pair
of Wimbledon titles in the late 1950s.
For one thing, Gibson was a pure one-off. And the Williams sisters may well
be the avant garde of a generation of young black women who could dominate
this sport in the new millennium. For another, Venus and her younger sister
Serena, the 1999 US Open champion, already have over $40 million in the bank -
most of the money earned in sponsorship, something that Gibson, an amateur
could not even dare dream of.
A lot has been said about the Williams's ghetto-to-riches story. As a cliche,
this seems just fine. But it is not quite true. Yes, Richards Williams and
his family did live in Compton, the wrong side of the town in Los Angeles,
a neighbourhood dominated by drug dealers and criminals and where a street
shoot-out was not uncommon.
Yet, it was by choice rather than necessity that Richard Williams, a factory
manager, chose to move to Compton from a decent Los Angeles suburb because
he could make big money on property deals there.
The family was never poor. The girls went to good schools and were brought
up in proper middle class comfort. It is because, in popular imagination, the
colour of a person's skin and the ambience of a ghetto are closely associated
that the tabloid press everywhere has played up the rags-to-riches angle of
the Williams story.
It is as ludicrous to think of Venus Williams as a Ghetto Queen as it is
to imagine that her success at Wimbledon last fortnight would trigger a sort
of revolution in the United States when it comes to race relations.
Yes, Venus and her sister Serena are role models to thousands of black kids.
But beyond a limited spectrum, their success will hardly have any influence.
The late Arthur Ashe - whose once suffered the ignominy of not being able
to wave down a cab in the Bronx in New York a little past 10 p.m. because of
the colour of his skin - always maintained that the real measure of Black Power
in the United States would have to be in the real corridors of power - in terms
of the presence of blacks in politics, in the courts of law, in big business
In this sense, the significance of the rise of the Williams sisters has
been overplayed but there is no taking away from the monumental level of their
accomplishments in the context of black women in sport in the United States.
"We are black. We fought for everything we have," said Venus after the
historic triumph. Indeed they have. But she is perhaps too young to understand that
there were days when her people would fight as hard as the Williams family
has and still not have anything, and still end up like Althea Gibson.
Surely, everything is still not perfect for black athletes in the United
States but things have changed remarkably over the last 40 years. And Venus
and Serena are as much a product of the change as they might very well be its
catalyst in terms of the future.
And it is Venus' triumph at Wimbledon that catches popular imagination much
more than Serena's at the US Open last September. For, this is the championship
that Richard Williams always dreamed one of his daughters would win some day.
"The point is, I never stopped believing. Even when I was playing badly,
I knew that one day I would win here,"said Venus who, at age 20, has many more
years left in the game.
Her athleticism and shotmaking skills are exceptional and with the hunger
for success that has fuelled her rise to the top, Venus should be at or near
the top of the sport for a long time to come.
Of course, to be fair to her final opponent, Linsday Davenport was a slightly
hobbled champion on that Saturday. Her thigh strain was obviously bothering
her. Never the best of movers, she was even more restricted in her movements.
This, of course, should take nothing away from the quality of Venus's tennis.
She made a few unforced errors but to her credit she attacked relentlessly,
speeding like an antelope and reaching balls with octopus arms.
What is more, she celebrated her singles victory well into the night on
Sunday - into the wee hours of Monday morning - and was back on court with
her sister Serena to complete a double, winning the women's doubles title
beating Julie Halard Decujis and Ai Sugiyama.
In the end, headline writers would call it the Williams Wimbledon. Sounds
good. But, as impressive as the Williams show was, this Wimbledon belonged
to The Greatest.
06-11-2005, 08:22 PM
Sampras takes record from Emerson
The World Today Archive - Monday, 10 July , 2000
Reporter: Tanya Nolan
COMPERE: Let's go now to the one of the greatest sporting events of the year.
REPORTER: That's it for the seventh time. Pete Sampras has done it.
REPORTER: 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2.
REPORTER: And out.
REPORTER: Yeah, that's his parents, they haven't seen him play, but ...
REPORTER: Tears in the eyes of the champion, Pete Sampras, and understandably so. Very emotional moment. Look at him.
REPORTER: That's not sweat he's wiping from his eyes.
COMPERE: While Australia mourns Pat Rafter's loss, Americans are obviously celebrating their Grand Slam King. With seven Wimbledon titles and 13 Grand Slam wins, Pete Sampras now tops the tennis record books, out-doing Australian Roy Emerson, who held the record until last night.
But as Tanya Nolan reports for us, the question now being asked is whether Pete Sampras is, in fact, the best player in tennis history.
PETE SAMPRAS: It means so much to me and my parents - we're here today, which is so important to me, they could share this with me, and obviously I love Wimbledon, I love playing here. I've never had a chance to talk to the people here after I've won, so I'd like to thank everyone for supporting me over the years. This is the best court in the world, and I certainly look forward to coming back next year.
TANYA NOLAN: On the hallowed grounds of the All England Club, Sampras has once again walked away with the coveted Golden Cup and walked into the record books. No other male player in the Open era has won seven Wimbledon titles, making Sampras the undisputed king of grass court tennis.
Today's win also takes the 28-year-old to a record 13 Grand Slam wins, an honour which surprised him.
PETE SAMPRAS: Right now it hasn't really hit me, obviously just getting done with the match, but just looking at the match and I really felt I was going to lose. I really - down 4-1 in the second set-breaker, and Pat was playing great, and I, you know, won that second set, and I really started playing better. But, you know, it's just an emotional time where obviously with my parents being in the crowd, and breaking the record in the past week and a half, it's been a little more stressful 'cause of just some situations. So it's a satisfying win and probably the most difficult Slam that I've won, especially what I was up against.
TANYA NOLAN: While Sampras dashed Australia's hopes of a Wimbledon victory, he also erased the long-standing title of 12 Grand Slam tournament victories held by Roy Emerson. That mark was equalled last year when Sampras defeated Andre Agassi in his sixth Wimbledon conquest.
Even Pat Rafter in defeat acknowledged the true champion that Sampras has proved himself to be.
PAT RAFTER: You know, like all great champions, I think, you know, you've got to win on all surfaces and ages. But, you know, Pete in my eyes still goes down as the greatest player ever. It's just been something that was really concreted.
TANYA NOLAN: The tennis world is now asking itself whether, in fact, Pistol Pete does rank in history as the greatest men's champion ever. Like other champions, Pete Sampras has failed to secure the tennis Grand Slam for four major tennis titles. The French Open title played on clay continues to elude him, this year failing to go beyond the first round.
But Sampras is determined to silence his critics, showing no signs of retiring.
PETE SAMPRAS: I'll be back, there's no question about that. I don't know what to say, but thank you so much, I really - this is a great moment in my life, and thank you, thank you.
06-11-2005, 08:30 PM
The champion of champions
Pete Sampras was a class act, a pure one-off among the players of his generation. He symbolised sporting excellence at its apotheosis and his place at No.1 in the top 10 list of the last 30 years is indisputable, writes NIRMAL SHEKAR.
As the great man, riding an emotional tidal wave, wept in public and banks of photographers went into overdrive to capture a deeply historic moment, the realisation suddenly hit me.
That's it. I would never get to watch Pete Sampras play tennis again. He's done, he's gone!
Through a suspenseful year since the 2002 US Open, although the indications were clear that the great man was unlikely to play again, a simple truth _ that I would never again get to see him play _ never dawned on me.
Even when his agents announced a few days before the start of the US Open that Sampras was going to make his retirement official at a ceremony on the first Monday, the full impact of the decision did not hit home.
It was only when the champion of champions broke down at the Arthur Ashe stadium during the ceremony, with thousands of fans chanting his name all around, that finally the truth clearly dawned.
It was like a longtime music critic suddenly realising that he'd never be able to attend a live performance of Pandit Ravi Shankar or M. S. Subbalakshmi. It was like a longtime movie critic realising that Marlon Brando would never face the cameras again.
Even worse, in fact. For, the best of music and movies can be replayed to some level of satisfaction. But recorded sport is never a passable substitute for live sport. I might choose to, at some point, watch the tape of the 1999 Wimbledon final when the great man elevated tennis to levels to which Van Gogh and Michelangelo elevated art. That magic hour when Sampras, from 3-4 and 0-40 down on serve in the first set, climbed on some invisible ladder to heights no human being might have ever scaled with a tennis racket in hand, would certainly rekindle fond memories.
But being there when he is doing that, merely being there when he is doing whatever it is he is doing wherever, watching him play at whatever level.... that's entirely different. And that, sadly, will never happen again.
As the great man walked a lap with his son Christian in his arms, hundreds of images flashed by the mind's eye: the impish smile of a 19-year old winning his first Slam title at the US Open in 1990, a grown man breaking down on the court during a night session match against Jim Courier at the Australian Open in 1995 on hearing a fan call out ''Do it for your coach, Pete'', a grand master of grass court tennis lifting his seventh Wimbledon trophy in the gloaming in July 2000, an ageing, tired icon slumped in his chair and staring at the pock marked turf in the No.2 court at Wimbledon after being beaten in the second round by a What's-his-name?...
How many glorious chapters, how many golden memories, how many unrecapturable moments of sheer joy watching the incomparable master!
I am not quite sure if I'd want to agree with what Andre Agassi had to say in 1998 in Stuttgart when he was asked to name the five best players of all time. For Agassi needed just one name — Sampras — for all five slots. His answer was, ''Sampras. Sampras. Sampras. Sampras. Sampras.''
But this much is sure: Sampras is, by far, the greatest player I have watched, the greatest player of the last quarter of the 20th century.
Whatever we happen to do in life, there are times when we look back and realise that there were just one or two reasons why we count ourselves lucky to be doing what we are doing, why we think that we are fortunate to have walked the road that we did. In my case, as a sportswriter, the one big reason is that my career coincided with Pete Sampras'.
The man was a class act, a pure one-off among the players of his generation. He symbolised sporting excellence at its apotheosis, never strayed from the straight path — to the very summit — he had set for himself and in the end achieved the kind of immortality that only a handful of men have done in the entire history of organised sport.
Pele. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Jack Nicklaus. Ayrton Senna. Don Bradman. Welcome to the club, Pete. At 19 the great man knew where he was headed. At 32, job done, Sampras knows that his place is secure in quite the most elite club in sport.
To win 14 Grand Slam titles over 13 years and to finish No.1 six years in a row in the most competitive era in the sport.... these are achievements that are truly mind-boggling, not to speak of the record seven Wimbledon titles over eight summers on the hallowed lawns of the All England Club.
When Bjorn Borg beat John McEnroe in an epic final that featured an unforgettable fourth-set tiebreak in 1980 to win his fifth straight Wimbledon title, I wondered if anybody would ever be able to beat Borg's record... win six titles, that is.
Little did anyone know then a man called Sampras would arrive and raise the bar higher than ever before in the history of the game.
In the event, it wouldn't be out of place in this essay to begin from the beginning of the Borg era and end with the end of the Sampras era and draw up a list of the top 10 male players.
The beginning of the Open Era (post-1968) would be a point of historic divide but for one reason alone I would not want to start from there. For, the second half of the great Australian Rod Laver's career stretched into the Open Era and this writer was not fortunate enough to have watched him at his peak.
As such, although loosely termed as the Top Ten of the last quarter of the 20th century, the men who feature in the list (see box) were players of some merit at different points in time during the Open Era starting with the mid-70s and stretching a few years into the new century.
Although the Open Era began in the late 1960s, it was with the rise of Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors that open tennis really took wings. And these two men were the first great superstars of the last quarter of the 20th century.
Borg was, in many ways, very much like Sampras — he let his tennis do all the talking. Yet, strangely enough, he was the first great teen idol of the modern era, a quiet man who carried the aura of a pop star. He was mobbed by ecstatic teenaged girls wherever he went.
Yet, his attitude to the sport and his day to day existence were very much like Sampras'. Both men shunned all sorts of distractions, neither cared much for parties and late night fun and games, both preferred room service to visiting popular restaurants and, right through their careers, Borg and Sampras led an almost monkish existence.
Then again, it was this one-pointedness of focus that helped Borg and Sampras achieve what they did. The one difference was, Borg forced this lifestyle upon himself — as hindsight would establish — while it came naturally to Sampras. This is the reason why Borg lost his way once he left tennis while Sampras, I am sure, will continue to be a very contented, happy family man.
Also, in terms of their playing styles, Borg and Sampras were polar opposites. While, as athletes, these two were in the highest class, Sampras was twice as gifted a player as Borg. He may not have had Borg's patience and staying power — virtues that saw the great Swede win six French Open titles — from the back of the court but Sampras certainly had a more powerful allround game.
There is no doubt at all in my mind that Borg would rank next only to Sampras in the list. Had he been a touch luckier at the US Open, he'd perhaps have won as many Grand Slam titles as Sampras.
The third slot should go to Andre Agassi for one reason alone: the bald one who revived his career remarkably in the late 1990s is one of only five players in the entire history of the game to win all the four Grand Slam titles.
As a shotmaker, Agassi is in a league of his own and the manner in which he has stayed competitive, and right at the top, past age 30 is almost incredible. Like Connors in the Borg era, Agassi was a touch unlucky that his career coincided with that of Sampras.
Like the Connors-Borg rivalry and the Borg-McEnroe duels, the world sat up each time Agassi played Sampras but the great man dominated the rivalry, particularly in the Slams, where Agassi's only final victory over Sampras came at the 1995 Australian Open.
It is a close race for the fourth place between Connors and McEnroe but I'd give it to the latter for two reasons: McEnroe was by far the most gifted player of that generation, an artist par excellence and he was, too, a wonderfully versatile player who dominated the doubles scene as well.
Connors, who carried working class tennis to heights few men might have aspired to — let alone achieve — owns the fifth slot while Boris Becker beats Ivan Lendl for the sixth.
Becker and Lendl have played some extraordinary matches and Lendl won almost twice as many career titles as did the German. But here again, for two reasons alone Becker should stay ahead in the list: his influence on the game as a charismatic champion far exceeded Lendl's and he was the more gifted one too.
There are two Swedes in the last three slots, Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg and Sweet Stefan will rank a step above his compatriot and friend with the 10th spot going to an Argentine, the Bull of Pampas, Guillermo Vilas.
06-16-2005, 11:05 PM
Sampras is unstoppable in another Wimbledon win
By Steve Wilstein, Associated Press writer
WIMBLEDON, England -- History is Pete Sampras' only competitor.
Four Wimbledons. Ten Grand Slams. Virtually no one in the way of more to come. His rivals these days are all retired -- Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson.
Cedric Pioline, chasing aces and groping after groundstrokes, certainly could do nothing yesterday to stop Sampras as he put the finishing touch on a tournament he dominated like no other in his sterling career.
It wasn't just the score, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, or the time, a mere 94 minutes, or even the ace count, 17, against Pioline that distinguished this Wimbledon from all of Sampras' other major championships.
It was the way he put together the whole package of his skills -- the serve that was broken only twice in 118 games over two weeks, the backhand returns that dispirited Pioline and everyone else, and the speed with which Sampras raced to the net.
"I don't know what happened with the serves, to tell you the truth," Sampras said of his amazing consistency from first match to final. "They just clicked for every match I played. It was the shot that won me the tournament.
"In order to win here, you need to return, and that was also a great shot. I was hitting and passing quite well. But this is the best I think I've ever served in my career."
Sampras, getting better with age at 25, is changing one of the basic elements of tennis. He's so quick to the net with his big strides that he no longer hits approach shots, even when he's receiving. As he did so many times against Pioline, Sampras crushes returns with his backhand, gets to the net, and waits to slap away volleys -- if the ball comes back.
In a final devoid of drama, or even the comic relief of a streaker like last year, Sampras broke Pioline early in each set. After a typically brutal backhand return that flew past Pioline for a break to 2-1, Sampras fairly skipped off court with long, loping strides like a big kid in the playground.
This is where Sampras shows his personality, and if it is muted compared to the likes of Andre Agassi or John McEnroe, he couldn't care less.
"I know I'm not Dave Letterman when it comes to interviews," Sampras said. "But the way I am on the court is the way I've been my whole life, and it's the way I'll continue to be. Very much to myself and a lot like Borg was.
"That's why when Andre and I were competing, he was the one who had the emotion. And McEnroe was Borg's rival. That's what the game needs right now. But I don't plan on changing for anybody because that's who I am."
That's all he ever needs to be to win at Wimbledon.
He held serve at love three times in the first set, and yielded a total of only four points in his two other service games that set. In the second set, he went one better, dropping just three points on serve.
The only time Sampras found himself even close to trouble was in the third set, when he double-faulted and faced his only break point of the match in the eighth game. He quickly snuffed out that threat with two service winners and a volley that gave him a 5-3 lead.
Pioline staved off defeat for a few moments with the help of his 13th ace. Sampras then put him out of his misery with a service winner on match point that he celebrated by raising his hands and placing his fist on his heart as he faced his new girlfriend, actress Kimberly Williams.
Pioline, the first Frenchman in the Wimbledon final since Yvon Petra won in 1946, played well enough to beat almost anyone, or at least give them a good match. Against Sampras, who has now beaten him in all eight of their meetings, including the 1993 U.S. Open final, Pioline was simply outclassed.
"He's playing very good, but he's not God," said Pioline. True enough, but no mortal could have served better.
Sampras is as much a student of tennis history as he is a maker of it. He knows his place among the game's greats, and what he must do to be considered the best.
His 10 major titles tied him with Bill Tilden for the most by an American, and he trails only Borg and Laver (11 each) and Emerson (12).
The one gap in Sampras' trophy chest is the French Open, and he would dearly love to fill that. But even if some would refuse to call him the best because of his lack of success on clay, he's building a good case for that claim with all his other triumphs.
"To have won 10 by the age of 25, I never really thought that would happen," said Sampras, who captured the Australian Open title in January. "This is what's going to keep me in the game, I hope, for a lot of years -- the major tournaments."
Winning his 10th major boosted Sampras' hopes of adding No. 11 at the U.S. Open in two months and closing in on the record.
"It just makes me feel that 12 is something that's so much more realistic, that I can break the record. So to be put into the same sentence as a Laver and those guys ... you can't have a more flattering comparison. This is what's important to me."
Sampras matched the Wimbledon total of Laver, his childhood hero, and only Borg's five straight (1976-80) is better in the modern era. The Wimbledon record is seven titles by William Renshaw in the 1880s.
"I don't like thinking of myself in terms of history," said Sampras, who won $697,000 to hike his career earnings to $27.1 million. "I feel like I'm still in the middle of my career and it's not over yet."
What's most important, he said, is his longevity in the game.
"I'm going to keep on playing until there comes a day where I feel like I'm not going to be in contention for slams," he said. "That will be the day that I'll stop. I have a lot of respect for what Boris (Becker) did, but I am nowhere near that day."
Awesome Sampras eases his way into the history books
Alix Ramsay, Tennis Correspondent
Wherever you go in the All England Club, the place is doused in a sense of history. Much of it revolves around the two main protagonists in the finals yesterday, Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras, and both seized the day. Graf, the loser to Lindsay Davenport, made her excuses quietly and then left the place for the last time, while Sampras embossed his place in the record books with his sixth title in seven years and his twelfth grand-slam title in all, equalling Roy Emerson's record.
Since the challenge round was abolished and those hopefuls wishing to lift the silver-gilt trophy had to play all seven matches of the tournament, no one has won as many. Few have won any title here with such an imperious display of power, dominance and sheer brilliance to win 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
The all-American final on the fourth of July had promised much - Andre Agassi, the rebel with a huge endorsement contract, against Sampras, the consummate professional. "We should see some fireworks out there," Agassi had warned, but the rain had dampened Agassi's fuse. He had pointed to Sampras's "obnoxious forehand" as a serious threat, but overlooked his equally obnoxious backhand, service and volley. He had spoken of Sampras bringing out the best in him, but forgotten that he brings the best out of Sampras, too. And when Sampras is chasing history, he can be a vicious opponent.
Agassi's run to the final had been touched with genius. The man with baggy shorts had bustled through the draw, picking up where he left off in the French Open and defying pundits, the formbook and the training manuals. He arrived on the Centre Court a bundle of nervous energy, scurrying around the baseline, directing operations with the ballboys and fretting over minor details. He looked as if he had been plugged into the mains and, given that he often prepares for a match with a couple of heavily-sugared espressos, he may have been.
He began the match like a sprinter, leaping on to the ball early and making it fizz off his racket. The service was not half-bad either. Only the woolly covering the oversized shirt seemed out of place, making Agassi look like a Fifties British holidaymaker - and within a matter of games he looked about as comfortable.
After 20 minutes or so to settle the nerves, Agassi let rip. He tore into the Sampras service, leaving the champion flatfooted as first the forehand and then the backhand whistled past him. With three break points in his hand, the first set was there for the taking. But Sampras simply moved his game on to another level - a knack that separates the supreme champions from the mere winners - snatched the points back and, in doing so, crushed Agassi for good.
"He breaks me there and wins the first set, it's completely different circumstances," Sampras said, "but that's grass-court tennis and that's where the momentum can switch in couple of minutes and I got it today."
There was rather more to it than that, however. Agassi took a few minutes to recover from the shock, dropped his service twice in succession and by that time he had lost the first set and was a break down in the second. Sampras was on a roll and for the next set he was simply untouchable.
Whatever Agassi did, Sampras read it. He started to wallop his backhand from corner to corner, landing the shot on a sixpence at full power. He was serving as if his life depended upon it and volleying as if it was the easiest thing in the world. It was not that Agassi was playing badly, it was just that Sampras was playing like a dream. As if in a dream, in fact.
"I was on fire in the middle of that second set," Sampras admitted. "I was playing in the zone and it's not easy to maintain that on grass, especially playing him. It was as well as I could play, plain and simple."
Agassi knew from the start that his chances would be as rare - "I went out there expecting him to be a huge pain in the ass," he said - and that if he did not grab whatever scraps came his way, he would be lost. Tim Henman had proved as much the day before when he held, and missed, break points on the Sampras service.
"From 3-3 and 0-40, six minutes later I was 6-3, 1-0 down," Agassi said. "That's how Pete plays. You've got to weather his storm, that's when he's vulnerable, but his storm was too strong today."
Not that Agassi was prepared to give in. There were moments in the third set when he showed flashes of genius, moments when it seemed that the fight was still on, but Sampras was simply too good. Some shots had Agassi staring in disbelief at the spot where they landed, while a missed return in the dying stages of the match brought a cry of anguish from the great showman. Agassi was well beaten and he knew it. An ace set up match point and a second-service ace won the title.
"He's taking chances out there and people think he's walking on water until he starts missing a few of those," Agassi said. "But he didn't miss today, so today he walked on water."
As for Sampras, he was still stunned by what he had achieved and the manner in which he had achieved it. "I don't know how I do it," he said, appearing human for the first time that afternoon. "It's hard to explain how I'm feeling, my mind is still reeling. It's so hard to explain the feeling of serving for the match. All of a sudden, the match is on your racket and you start breathing heavier. I just kind of went for it and hit a great second serve and it was a great shot. I surprised myself."
The fact that Sampras has now marked a new place in the history books with his 12 titles has left him "spinning a little bit", but the challenge of breaking the record, winning that thirteenth title, has whetted his appetite.
"I'm sure once the US Open comes around and people talk about it, I'd love to do it and do it where it all started for me in 1990," he said. The ink is not yet dry in the history books and Sampras is not finished.
Fifth Title Earns Sampras an Open Embrace
By Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle
Pete Sampras set us up.
After he won Wimbledon in 2000 for his record-setting 13th Grand Slam title,
Sampras must have thought: "They're taking me for granted, those fans. They say I'm so good that I ruin the game, and that I'm a boring guy."
So he purposely (so goes my theory) stopped winning, sunk like a rock in the rankings and started laboring around the court, his aura having left the building.
When Sampras started swinging his way through the pack at the U.S. Open, he had paid his hard-time dues, and the fans and media were able to accord him all the admiration and affection we withheld when he dominated the game with his boring excellence.
How else to explain Sampras' amazing comeback from Palookaville to the penthouse, capped by Sunday's dramatic yet decisive 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Andre Agassi?
How else to explain that Sampras had lost 33 straight tournaments, then showed up at the U.S. Open with that old lightning-bolt serve and matador volley?
Thirty-three aces Sunday against the man who invented the return of serve? Twelve aces in the first set? That's just frightening. For the first hour out there, Agassi must have felt like he was swinging a chopstick against Roger Clemens.
Sampras' 14th Slam was authoritative, and gutsy.
"This one might take the cake," Sampras said, mentally placing the 2002 silver cup onto his groaning shelf of Grand Slam hardware.
"The goods," that's what Sampras told us earlier in the week that he still had. The goods: A package that includes the serve, the volley and the guts to come back when you're sucking wind in the fourth set, the points are stretching out like a bad hamstring and you're facing a world-class battler who has just caught a whiff of opportunity.
In the third set, Sampras was serving at 5-6 and Agassi came back from 40- love to break and turn a rout into a match.
The zip on Sampras' serve seemed to be fading, and memories were stirred of the last two Open finals, when Sampras twice showed the strain of the two-week battle by falling to younger foes in straight sets.
This time Sampras worked through the fatigue. In the fourth game of the fourth set, Agassi was starting to look like Rocky, fighting off five Sampras chances to close out the game. But Sampras used his serve and volley to win the 20-point, seven-deuce classic.
"I was feeling (fatigue), I was definitely feeling a little bit of fatigue, " Sampras said. "I just hung in there the best that I could at the end and got it done."
With the crowd roaring and rooting hard for an Agassi comeback to prolong the drama between their two favorite players, Sampras seized the moment.
"I had it in my hands to serve it out," Sampras said. "And 30-love, second serve up the middle (at 119 mph), I hit an ace. That felt really good."
Who'd-a thunk it, besides Sampras? He was seeded 17th here. He has been saying for weeks now, "I know I've got one more in me," but until a few rounds into the serious action, it sounded like he was referring to kidney stones.
Does Sampras now have another one in him? He didn't say Sunday evening, and even left the door slightly open for retirement.
He almost surely won't, but if Sampras does walk away now, check out those career bookends! It all started for Pete right here at the Open in '90, when he won it as a 19-year-old nobody. Sunday he won his fifth Open title as a 31- year-old, re-inventing legend and becoming the tournament's oldest winner since 1970.
He said this is the best one, and that might be because of the love and admiration he has finally pried out of the fans as he evolved from boring young fogy to exciting senior citizen. Like Agassi, Sampras learned that there is nothing like growing old and overcoming adversity to win the fans.
And, realizing that the fans can be his allies, Sampras has reached out, let us get to know him. After the semis Saturday, he said he planned to relax that night, have a beer. Several veteran tennis writers dropped their notebooks. Hey, even if it was a nonalcoholic brewski, it's the thought that counts.
Sunday, no doubt nursing the world's tiniest hangover, Sampras came out smoking. Credit an assist to Agassi. Not only did the presence of Pete's foremost foe ratchet up the excitement of the afternoon, but Agassi is a big part of the reason Sampras is still here.
"He's made me a better player," Sampras said. "He's brought moments to my career that are like (Bjorn) Borg and (John) McEnroe. Those guys needed each other. I've needed Andre over the course of my career. He's pushed me. You know, he's forced me to add things to my game. He's the only guy that was able to do that. He's the best I've played."
So . . . same time next year?
07-30-2005, 06:49 PM
History - Classic Championships
2000: The Millennium Championships
History was in the air from the very start in 2000; the new millennium bringing with it great changes at the All England Club. The Millennium Building - built on the site of the old court one - was opened with extensive new facilities for players and members of the press.
To mark the arrival of 2000, the club celebrated nearly 70 years of its history with a parade of former champions. The seats were packed on the middle Saturday as 64 winners of singles and doubles titles lined up the famous court. From Sidney Wood, the 1931 champion, and the 93 year old Bunny Austin, through to Rod Laver, Margaret Court and Billie Jean King and on to John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, they were introduced to the crowd, took their applause and then posed for their photographs. The stellar gathering was led by Andre Agassi, the link with the present, who, wrapped in a track suit, appeared first and then sprinted off to prepare for his match. An historic occasion, indeed.
Then there was Pete Sampras. He declined his invitation to attend the
parade as he had more pressing matters on his mind. For most of his career he had been rewriting history and as he came to The Championships for the 12th successive year, his CV already looked very impressive. But there was one record left to broken, one more chapter left to write. The year before, on Centre Court, he had equalled Roy Emerson's tally of 12 grand slam singles titles. Now he could beat it.
The problem was that he was not the same player who had demolished Agassi in the final 12 months before. A serious back injury had scuppered the end of 1999 - even if he did manage to win the ATP Tour championships in Hanover - and since then he had won only one title. His back was still a problem and the long haul around the clay courts had done his confidence little good.
Still, Wimbledon was where Sampras felt most at home and none but the most foolish were prepared to write him off. He had lost only one match in seven years in SW19 and, as he walked through the gates, the All England Club had its usual, magical effect on the great man.
All was well for a round and then, taking on Karol Kucera on a dark and gloomy evening, the unthinkable happened. Sampras stopped. He called for the trainer and, as his foot and ankle were massaged, taped and strapped, it became clear he was in serious trouble. It turned out to be tendinitis in his right shin, a painful enough complaint when you are sitting still but one which makes moving feel like walking on razor blades. Somehow he limped on to victory but tournament plan was now in tatters.
Unable to train in between matches and trying every remedy known to man to cure his still throbbing shin, picked his way gingerly, often painfully, but, at last, successfully through the draw to make his way to the final. Justin Gimelstob, Jonas Bjorkman, Jan-Michael Gambill and Vladimir Voltchkov were dispatched for the loss of only two sets. That left him with Pat Rafter to face for his seventh Wimbledon title and his record breaking 13th grand slam trophy - and that would have been a hard enough assignment with two good legs.
As is the way of life at Wimbledon, the rain played a huge part in the
outcome of the final. They played four sets over the course of six, damp hours - and even then they started an hour late thanks to the drizzle - and the delays played havoc with their nerves. From honours even in the first set, the rain set in for the second time and Sampras was left to twitch in the locker room.
Back at work, Sampras stumbled through the first set tiebreak, offering it up with a double fault but then sniffed the scent of blood as Rafter blew a 4-1 lead in the second. At a set apiece, Sampras, at last, began to settle and as the night drew in, he closed out his emotional 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory. He burst into tears and then ran for the back of the stands to find his parents, Sam and Georgia, who had flown in overnight to see their son make history.
It was Sampras's last great moment at the All England Club. Two lean and title-free years later, he was rewriting the record books again, winning his 14th grand slam title at the US Open by beating Agassi. That, he thought, was enough and with nothing left to achieve and no prospect of bettering those last two grand slam triumphs, he called it a day. History could take care of itself from now on.
Pete rewrote tennis history at Wimbledon on Sunday by beating Australian Pat Rafter 6-7 7-6 6-4 6-2 to win the men's final for the seventh time and claim a record-breaking 13th Grand Slam title. He flung his arms up in delight and wiped tears from his eyes after Rafter, twice U.S. Open champion, put another huge Sampras serve wide on the first match point on Centre Court. Sampras then scrambled up into the stands to embrace his parents, Georgia and Sam, who had come to Wimbledon for the first time to watch their son equal William Renshaw's 19th century record of seven titles. Roy Emerson of Australia had held the Grand Slam record of 12 titles for more than 30 years before Sampras equalled it last year at Wimbledon. Sunday's match had been interrupted twice by rain and was finished in fast fading light. "It means so much to me that my parents were here today and they could share it with me, it's always special to win here but I needed a little help from upstairs! It's my home away from home."
Rafter won a rain-interrupted first set 7-6 (12-10) and Sampras came back with a 7-5 score in the second set tie-break. Rafter had struggled against the top seed during most of the first set, but came good in a nerve-racking tie-break as Sampras served two double faults. The American had not met a seed in his progress to the final but he upped his tempo for the final and dropped only three points in three service games until a first rain break. Rafter, who had endured a tougher build-up including a five set semifinal win against number two seed Andre Agassi, was more vulnerable on his serve. His first serve did not have the power or speed of his opponent's and he had to fight through six deuces in the seventh game to hold serve and go 4-3 up. Play was then suspended for 21 minutes because of the rain. Sampras returned to level at 4-4 with a serve game to 15 and Rafter again struggled on his own serve before the rain fell again with the game poised at the third deuce. He had saved three break points until that point. The players were off for more than two hours and Rafter came back to serve a double fault to concede a fourth break point. But he held his nerve, saved it and went on the win the game. Both players then held serve to force a tie-break. Sampras earned two set points and thumped down two aces during the tie-break. Rafter earned four set points and served one ace. But it was Sampras's unaccustomed two double faults that made the difference, his second giving Rafter the set.
The second set went with serve, but Sampras looked slightly more vulnerable than in the first, being pushed to deuce in the third game. Rafter had conceded a break point the game before, but saved it with a big serve and looked to attack Sampras's second serve. Sampras served a double fault to lose the first point of the tie-break and suddenly found himself 4-1 down. Rafter clenched his fist and shouted in triumph, but the celebration was short-lived. Sampras went on to win the next five points. Rafter saved the first set point with a backhand volley but Sampras took the set with a forehand volley as evening fell over the All England Club. The first break of the match went to the champion in the fifth game of the third set. Rafter had gone 40-0 down but fought back to save three points with a big kick serve, a backhand stop volley and a Sampras forehand error. But he could not convert two advantages and double faulted for a fourth break point. He then missed a sitting forehand volley to hand Sampras the lead. Games went with serve thereafter so that Sampras was able to serve for the third set. He did so majestically to love with three aces and another huge serve that Rafter put into the net. The two continued as darkness crept across the Centre Court and it was the more experienced grasscourt player who took his
He broke a visibly tiring Rafter's serve in the fifth game of the fourth set after the Australian missed two volleys and a half-volley at the net. Rafter, steely nerved, saved two break points but Sampras won the game with a mishit backhand that landed just inside the line. Rafter misjudged it and let it go. Rafter earned break point, only his second of the match, against Sampras's serve the next game but put a backhand return into the net. Sampras still struggled to win the game going to three more deuces but eventually held with consecutive aces. Sampras was now on a roll with a 4-2 lead. He broke Rafter's serve again the following game as the tiring Australian put a volley long. He then raced through his own service game and won it on the first match point when Rafter put a forehand return wide.
08-16-2005, 10:52 PM
Thursday, July 17
There is magic in Sampras' twilight
By Sal Paolantonio
Special to ESPN.com
A few precious moments before nightfall, as the sun disappeared over the western edge of Centre Court at Wimbledon last July, Pete Sampras cracked a 130-mph serve and flashbulbs sparkled like 100 flickering candles.
Patrick Rafter struggled to get his racquet on the ball. And in the magic twilight of the 2000 Wimbledon finals, Sampras made history, capturing his 13th Grand Slam singles title, breaking Roy Emerson's 30-year-old record of 12.
There were tears of joy from the champion, who climbed into the crowd to hug his parents, Sam and Georgia. Despite their son's record-setting performances in England, they had never been to Wimbledon before.
A year later, he's married and he's trying to work through one of the toughest stretches of his 13-year career, but he feels like the same man who helped create one of the most dramatic moments in tennis history.
"It all happened the way I've always dreamt about breaking the record, at Wimbledon, having my fiancée there, having my parents there -- I just realized it's as good as it's ever going to get," Sampras said Thursday from London.
"As an athlete, that moment, it's getting dark, a surreal atmosphere, it's still firmly in my mind," said Sampras, who begins his 13th appearance at the All-England Club on Monday. "It's the way I've always wanted to break the record one day, to have my parents there, who don't come around much, to share that with me was very special."
Yet, who would have thought then, during that powerful display of tennis and joyous celebration, that Sampras would go an entire year without winning another title? Not Pistol Pete, that's for sure. And he insists that reports of his imminent disappearance from the world of tennis are very premature.
"Obviously, people are thinking that I'm hitting 30, I've done a lot in the game, is it time for me to go?" Sampras said. "I can just say that I plan on being around for quite a while."
Sampras turns 30 in August. No titles in 12 months -- the longest drought of his professional career -- is tough to swallow sometimes. Age, injuries and major changes in his life seem to be taking their toll. In what passes for the short offseason in tennis, Sampras got married to actress Bridgette Wilson and moved to California, where he's got some new business ventures.
"I don't think you can separate his game right now from where his head has been," said Davis Cup Captain Patrick McEnroe, who is also a tennis analyst for ESPN. "Plus, where's the motivation? He's had tunnel vision for so long to break the record and now he's done it."
But, on Monday, Sampras will be back on what for him has been home turf. He's won Wimbledon seven times, including four consecutive titles. I have been covering Wimbledon for four years and I've never seen him lose a match there.
Think about it. He's only lost once at Wimbledon -- the 1996 quarterfinal against Richard Krajicek -- in the past eight years. But can he keep up the intensity level for another run at the title?
"Just kind of walking into the club, being on center court, like I've been the last couple of days doing interviews, there's no problem getting the motivation and passion back for the game," Sampras said. "That court is special to me. Wimbledon is so important to the sport of tennis. I know deep down that I have the ability to really turn my year around very shortly."
If you just break it down to the hallowed ground of Centre Court -- the Fenway Park of tennis -- Sampras is 38-1 on that well-worn grass, creating an aura of invincibility that often intimidates the opposition.
"That's a factor, no doubt about it," McEnroe said. A bigger factor is Sampras' serve. Perfectly suited for grass -- heavy, hard and deadly accurate. And the second serve -- clocking on average near 125 mph -- doesn't given an opponent any time to come up for air.
Remarkably, Sampras said he doesn't train on grass during the year until he gets to England and begins the two-week tuneup for Wimbledon. But once he arrives in London, he psyches himself up with a personal tour of Centre Court.
"I always make a point to go to the court before the tournament starts because it is quiet and peaceful," he said. "You just take a seat and look around. You just look at the court and you kind of flash back on a lot of great moments that I've had, a lot of tough finals that I've won."
A look at this year's men's field suggests Sampras is a heavy favorite again. Richard Krajicek has withdrawn due to injury. So has three-time French Open winner Gustavo Kuerten. Another longtime nemesis, Mark Philippoussis, whose serve has given Sampras trouble on grass, has knee problems. He's also out.
"There are probably only four guys who can win it -- Sampras, Andre Agassi, Patrick Rafter, and maybe Tim Henman, if things break right for him," McEnroe said.
"There seems to be fewer grass court players than there were five years ago," Sampras said. If he wins Wimbledon this year, Sampras would be the first eight-time champion and the first men's tennis player to win a Grand Slam tournament in nine consecutive years.
But besides Wimbledon, Sampras has not won another major title since 1997. This year, he's had really one good week of tennis -- at Indian Wells, Calif., where he lost in straight sets to Agassi in the final.
Indeed, his play in the majors has been lackluster after his loss in the final of last year's U.S. Open to Marat Safin, which seemed to catch the entire tennis world by surprise.
And getting bounced out of the French Open in the second round was another major disappointment at Roland Garros, where he has been shut out for his career. But he said a solid fortnight at the All-England would revive his year.
"If anything, I'll enjoy Wimbledon a lot more this year than last year," he said. "I felt so much pressure -- pretty much self-inflicted because of the record. ... This year, I feel a lot more relaxed going into Wimbledon, which hopefully I can play a bit better than last year. Last year, I didn't feel like I was quite at my best."
Now, that's got to be a daunting concept to the rest of the men's field.