"We all choke"
Pete Sampras' humility has lessons beyond sports.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Gary Kamiya
July 13, 2000 | After his record-setting victory over Patrick Rafter at Wimbledon on Sunday, Pete Sampras said, "We all choke."
Sampras was referring to the match's two decisive tiebreakers -- the first of which he lost after double-faulting twice, the second of which he won after Rafter made unforced errors. "This game is a matter of nerves," he said. "We were both feeling it. I lost my nerve in the first set. He lost his nerve 4-1 in the second breaker."
"We all choke"? "I lost my nerve"?
Was this a jock speaking in America in the year 2000?
These days, you're a lot more likely to see athletes taunting their opponents with the "choke" sign than admitting that they themselves are capable of choking. Mike Tyson, who said of Lennox Lewis, "I'm going to rip out his heart and feed it to him," modestly adding, "I want your heart. I want to eat your children," is an extreme case, but increasing numbers of athletes seem to favor public personas that have been modeled on Donald Trump, or maybe Werner Erhard. And why not? Projecting a general aura of macho invulnerability goes over big in the corporate world -- why shouldn't jocks follow suit?
In a hyperbolic, media-saturated age, when a relief pitcher's failure to throw a strike instantly becomes a collapse rivaling Satan's fall through outer darkness, showing weakness, or even admitting to it, is getting harder and harder for athletes to do. This is understandable, to a degree. Athletic achievement requires a spectacular degree of self-confidence. Great athletes can't allow even the possibility of failure to creep into their minds: Hamlet probably wouldn't have been any more successful as a quarterback than he was as a fencer. Moreover, the simple fact is that great athletes fail less than the rest of us: That's why they're great. Self-confidence, natural talent and achievement reinforce one another.
And, of course, that's one of the reasons we're drawn to sports: to watch people who have achieved a rare mastery of their craft and themselves. If we knew that every time Sampras tossed up the ball to serve, his concentration was going to waver, we wouldn't turn on the TV. We don't want to see athletes second-guessing themselves, dithering and suffering fits of the vapors: We get that at home. We need the universe of sports to be a parallel one, brighter and clearer than ours, filled with waving pennants instead of half-truths and smudged bus schedules, inhabited by people who have the sharp outlines and implacable assurance of characters in novels.
But what makes that universe truly compelling is that it really isn't different from ours at all. Athletes do what they do better than nonathletes can, but they're still human beings. They lose their nerve. They lose concentration. They succumb to fear.
By admitting this in such a matter-of-fact way, on the day that he established his credentials as one of the great champions, Sampras restored a measure of dignity, of humanity, to the increasingly plastic, victory-obsessed world of sports. In the end, Sampras was saying, victory cannot even be understood apart from defeat. It isn't that some of us choke: We all choke. It's a democracy of failure: Some of us may be riding in first class, but we're all bozos on this bus.
And the very fact that even the greatest athletes choke means that their achievements, far from diminishing our less spotlighted lives, illuminate the million human victories that go unnoticed every day. Just as it takes their deeds out of the realm of empty myth, it moves our own everyday feats, if we look at them the right way, onto a green field of the mind, a field that never fades.
So Sampras' 130-mile-an-hour serve kicking up chalk lights up the schoolteacher who stays after work to help a struggling student learn how to read. Joe Montana's off-leg, hand-in-his-face throw to that 2-foot square where only Dwight Clark could snatch the ball out of the air illuminates a mother stumbling out of bed at 4 a.m. to hand a crying child a teddy bear. Michael Jordan's soaring last-second shot spotlights the kid sax player who plays that Bird phrase over and over until he nails it.
"We all choke," Sampras said. Yes, we do -- and if we didn't, there would be no victories, or defeats, at all.
salon.com | July 13, 2000
07-02-2005, 06:46 PM
Like the good old days
IF EVER there were any doubts about Pete Sampras' right to call himself the greatest, he crushed them in emphatic style on Sunday with his epic four-set win over Andre Agassi for a fifth US Open title.
A day earlier, fellow American Serena Williams won a third straight Grand Slam title at the US Open without dropping a set.
Facing his long-time rival, the only man to have challenged his dominance in the 1990s, 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 was 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.
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 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.
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.
No-one is asking when Serena will retire but whether she can be stopped. Such was her domination over the two weeks that no-one even managed to take her to a tie- break.
In the space of a year there has been a major shift in power at the top of women's tennis. Only 12 months ago it was Venus who cemented her place at the top of the rankings with a comprehensive win over her sister at Flushing Meadows.
It seemed that the elder sibling had asserted her authority over the younger. But this year has seen the Williams' story work out as father Richard had predicted -- with Serena fulfilling her promise in dramatic style.
After the usual slow start to the year at the Australian Open -- the one Grand Slam title to have eluded both sisters so far -- Serena overcame an ankle injury to win in Scottsdale in February.
The floodgates really opened the following month in Miami when she beat Venus for the first time in three years, and only the second time in her career.
Team Williams finally made the breakthrough on clay when Serena won the Italian Open in May, and followed up by beating her sister in the final of the French Open.
It was the same story at Wimbledon, and Saturday's victory took Serena's record for the year to 44 wins and four losses, with five titles to her name in a relatively light schedule.
For all his eccentricities and outspoken comments, Richard Williams has proved to be a master at charting his daughters' careers. Despite the hype surrounding both Venus and Serena from a young age, they have both been brought through slowly, almost held back for their own good.
They now know how to peak at exactly the right time -- in the major championships.
Serena has suffered surprise defeats this year to Justine Henin, Chanda Rubin and Meghann Saughnessy, but all in tour events. When it came to the Grand Slams she was ready. Physically, no other player on the tour can match her -- including Venus -- and that is why she looks set to dominate for years to come.
There are plenty of new young stars on the way up, notably from Russia, but none look to have anything approaching Serena's power. Her huge serve is matched by unrivalled weight of shot off the ground and on return, as she demonstrated in the US Open final.
"I think Serena's level is definitely more up than last year," said Venus. "I think mentally I'm not there as much."
And if Venus feels unable to compete with Serena, it holds out little hope for the rest.
Pete Sampras, Tiger Woods, Sachin Tendulkar are three sportspersons who are colossuses in their respective sport, and wonderful role models, too. You won't find them creating a scene on or off the courts, courses or fields.
07-02-2005, 06:52 PM
One of game's best carried himself like a player should
By IAN O'CONNOR
Westchester Journal News
NEW YORK – Strangers are forever approaching him in airports, in hotel lobbies, on golf courses, and telling him what a United States Open crowd never could. They do not thank Pete Sampras for the memories that inspired an emotional ceremony last night, a ceremony that broke down Sampras the way no tennis player could.
They point to their sons and daughters and thank the greatest tennis player of all time for showing them that sport isn't the exclusive domain of divas, louts and clowns.
"The biggest compliment I could ever receive," Sampras said by phone in the hours before he wept and wept as the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd stood and roared, this as his 9-month-old son Christian held a tennis ball and bounced in his mother's arms.
"It means more now that I'm a father, because you want so much for your child. For parents to come up to me all the time and say, 'You've been a good representative for my kids,' and to feel like you've made a difference with people, I think that's worth the few extra Sports Illustrated covers I might've gotten had I acted a different way."
The Jeremy Shockey and Terrell Owens way. The John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors way.
"The older crowd," Sampras said, "people in their 40s and 50s, they tell me, 'Thank you for the way you handled yourself compared to the guys who came before you.'
"Throwing a racket never even crossed my mind. It's childish to me, and it would be embarrassing to myself and my family. I wouldn't sell out as a person, wouldn't change for sponsors or the money. In this day and age, people want more than tennis; they want drama. I always felt it was just about winning. I always let my racket do the talking."
Yes, Pete Sampras spoke softly and carried the biggest stick, a stick he officially put to bed in a news conference that left him teary-eyed and choked up when he said goodbye and talked about his mother and father, Georgia and Sam, who raised a gentleman and arrived for his retirement ceremony only after remaining grounded and invisible in a sport overrun by stage parents from hell.
Pete cried, we lost. Thank heavens for that '92 Open loss to Stefan Edberg, the one Sampras said "made me hate to lose" and left him "obsessed with being the best." Virtue would rise out of the rubble. After all the noise made by the village idiots who preceded him, Sampras slid Connors and McEnroe into his pocket as easily as he would a second-service ball.
Sampras won 14 majors. You'd have to add up the totals of Connors (eight) and McEnroe (seven) to find a champion with a bigger trophy case.
"If boring is when you dominate," Sampras said, "then yes, I was boring. When you make it look easy it's not fully appreciated."
On his way out the Open door and toward a life of recreational golf, leisurely travel and serious fatherhood, Sampras was allowed this first and final appreciation of himself. He's won as many big ones as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods combined, and yet he could still go unrecognized by the same shoppers in a mall who would do cartwheels over a fleeting glimpse of Jason Sehorn.
"I was flying from L.A. to Tampa once and sitting next to Barry Bonds," Sampras said. "I was 22 or 23, he had no idea who I was, and his friend behind us wanted to sit next to him. Barry said, 'Well, if this guy gets up you can sit there.' So I got up. I've seen Barry since and he couldn't be nicer."
Sampras had won three or four majors before that flight. Three or four more than Barry Bonds.
Only when he got older, slower and more vulnerable did Sampras become the people's choice. At last, the Open opened its heart to him when Sampras ended a 26-month drought and silenced a deafening chorus of critics begging him to retire, begging him to quit volleying his legacy into the net.
Those two weeks amounted to one open window on a champion's soul. Sampras was angered when he beat Albert Portas in the first round and received word that his first teacher, Pete Fischer, called the effort "atrocious." He was angered by the inane, Pete-is-washed-up ramblings of Greg Rusedski, yesterday's fitting first-round loser. Sampras was unimpressed by the muscle-beach attire of Tommy Haas, this before blowing away the It Boy, Andy Roddick, and ultimately facing the only opponent who could make the final right.
As a teen-ager, Sampras beat Andre Agassi at the Open for his first major title. As a 31-year-old man with a senior citizen's hobble, thinning hair and a killer cold sore, Sampras needed his image-is-everything antagonist to punctuate his last great run.
"I never felt so vindicated in my life," Sampras said after becoming the oldest Open champ in 32 years, after high-fiving all of New York on his rush into the stands to hug his pregnant, movie-star wife, Bridgette Wilson, who was given the Yoko Ono treatment across her husband's Grand Slam demise.
That vindication carried Sampras past Christian's birth and into a Christmastime phone call he used to tell a reporter he'd just watched a tape of his Roddick romp and was fired up to go for No. 15. "I didn't retire," he said, "because I still believe I can win majors."
Soon enough, that desire went out like a candle in the wind. Sampras was preparing for Wimbledon at his Los Angeles home, hitting with his coach, Paul Annacone, when the moment knocked him cold.
"It was my second or third practice," Sampras said, "and I realized I had nothing left to prove to myself. For the first time I felt content. A half-hour into that practice, I said, 'Paul, let's have a seat. We need to talk.' "
His racket was done talking. The champion who grew up idolizing Rod Laver, who ended up breaking Roy Emerson's record with Laver's grace and Ashe's dignity, wouldn't make it to Wimbledon or old Locker No. 163 at the Open, a locker that was as empty yesterday as the sport itself.
"I'm 100 percent done," Sampras said.
Say goodbye to decency, maturity and class. Send in the divas, louts and clowns.
• • •
You can e-mail Ian O'Connor at email@example.com.
07-02-2005, 06:54 PM
September 7th, 2002
US Open: Sampras and Agassi!
Well, I look forward to the US Open finals tomorrow, as it’s Sampras vs Agassi (just like old times!).
Sampras’ revival at this tournament is the stuff of legends. Not only has he gone 33 events without a win after taking his record-breaking 13th Slam title at the 2000 Wimbledon, but he was a virtual non-factor all summer. But after reuniting with his long-time coach, Paul Annacone, and discussing his state of mind with his now pregnant wife, actress Brigitte Wilson, Sampras was able to pick himself off the canvas. […]
07-02-2005, 06:58 PM
It's 95% over for Sampras
(Manila Time) | Jun. 23, 2003
LONDON -- Seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras has admitted that he is now "95 percent" certain he has played his last professional match.
Sampras, who lifted the title at the All England Club from 1993 to 95 and 1997 to 2000, told the Sunday Times the time had come to leave the stage to younger stars after making it a record 14 Grand Slam titles at last year's US Open.
"It's time for other guys to hold up the trophies. I'm 95 percent sure I'm stopping," said Sampras, who turns 32 on August 12 and who held the year-end top ranking every season between 1993 and 1998 -- a record streak of six years.
"I'd been putting off the decision and putting off the decision in the hope that something would come back."
But after some practice sessions with coach Paul Annacone the old warrior said he knew his time was up.
"On the third day I called over to Paul and said 'let's sit down for a second.' He knew what was coming.
"I said 'this is real. I can't do it.' I just knew my heart wasn't in it. It wasn't my body that felt bad. It was just getting up and going to practice."
When Sampras beat old rival Andre Agassi at last year's US Open it was his first title success since his record-breaking achievement of a seventh Wimbledon crown in 2000, snapping a drought of 33 events.
The Washington-born star has won more than 43 million dollars and 64 singles titles in his career since turning professional in 1988.
He finished last season ranked 13, his first finish out of the world top 10 since 1989.
At Wimbledon, Sampras boasts a win-loss career record of 63-7.
Last year he lost to unheralded George Bastl of Switzerland in the second round, a defeat which will now prove to be his swansong showing at the tournament where he proved unbeatable between 1993 and 2000 -- save for a 1996 quarterfinal reverse to Dutchman Richard Krajicek.
They tried to make it as big as they could at the U.S. Open tonight, with a cascade of flags and a host of highlights and a Broadway singer serenading him at mid-court. They tried to give Pete Sampras a send-off in proper proportion to his mammoth career, but that was an impossible mission, and besides, all the pomp and circumstance in the world was no match for the simple act of gratitude performed by the fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
One by one, they rose to clap on his behalf, the applause swelling to such a crescendo Sampras, 32, was nearly swept off the court. A minute into the standing ovation, he started to quietly weep. Two minutes in, he broke down completely, using one hand to cover his face and the other to acknowledge the crowd.
Quiet, unassuming, professional, and one of the best ever- he never got the respect he deserved, IMHO.
Filed under Sports by John Cole
When it comes to class and professionalism, nothing can top Sampras. However, in terms of greatest ever, I'd have to go with Rod Laver, who (like Ted Williams) won 11 Grand Slam titles (including 2 Grand Slams) despite missing out on 5 years of opens in the prime of his career.
Posted by: Norbizness on August 26, 2003
It's an enduring irony that flamboyant tennis players who had a lot less to offer than Pete Sampras have always gotten louder accolades and more love -- but then, the same could be said of Bjorn Borg.
Posted by: Francis W. Porretto on August 26, 2003
All that and he is able to say that he dumped Kimberly Williams.
Posted by: Ricky on August 26, 2003
Pete was THE best, period IMO. 14 titles, a record six years at No. 1. And he did it with consistency and hard work and without whining.
I think the no-whining part kept him from the spotlight, look at McnRoe for chrissakes.
Posted by: Tman on August 26, 2003
Sampras is the Stan Musial of tennis--arguably the greatest player of his generation (probably more than arguably in the case of Sampras), but overshadowed by more spectacular and/or colorful talents. Fifty years from now, tennis fans will still be looking at Sampras' records the way that a baseball fan looks at Musial's numbers, and they will wonder why there are so many more stories about Agassi, Connors, and McEnroe.
Posted by: M. Scott Eiland on August 26, 2003
07-02-2005, 07:12 PM
Tennis legends close out at open
By Nick Chin
Published: Monday, September 8, 2003
The main story at this year's U.S. Open tennis tournament was the retirement of Pete Sampras. But he was not the only one to retire from the sport. Jeff Tarango and Michael Chang joined him in finishing their careers at the tournament.
Tarango's career was not marked by winning but by his antics on the court. He will mostly be remembered for leaving a match at the 1995 Wimbledon where he got in the umpire's face because he believed the match was not called fairly. After the match Tarango's wife even got involved, slapping the umpire's face. The following year he was banned from Wimbledon.
Tarango was considered by many to be "a poor man's John McEnroe." Like McEnroe, Tarango had a fierce temper, but was unable to win any major tournament only to be ranked at the No. 42 spot.
Chang had an impact not only on but also off the court. Chang was the youngest Grand Slam Champion, winning the French Open at the age of 17. His highest ranking was No. 2 after losing to Pete Sampras in the 1996 U.S. Open final.
However, aging finally caught up to Chang. Unable to hustle to the ball as he used to, he left the game happy.
Off the court Chang changed the image of Asian Americans in the sporting world. Asian Americans were largely unrecognized until Chang jumped onto the tennis scene. He brought his fellow Asian Americans into mainstream sports for the first time. Without him who knows where Michelle Kwan, Kristi Yamaguchi and Amy Chow would be. He was an inspiration to Asian Americans around the U.S.
Sampras ended his career on top, reaching the No. 1 spot several times. In his last tournament he defeated Andre Agassi in the finals of the 2002 U.S. Open, winning 14 Grand Slam titles, the most in the history of tennis.
Sampras let his career speak for itself, leaving the game when he wanted to and on top.
Chang suffered through this final year of his career and it was painful to watch after his glory years. Sampras did it right and stopped playing when he made history.
The careers of Tarango, Chang and Sampras have been different. Tarango is known as more of an embarrassment to the tennis world than a great tennis player. Chang had success back in the day, but finished his career on a down slope. And Sampras will always be America's sweetheart.
Chang and Sampras's careers intersected and Sampras was the man that held Chang from ever reaching the No. 1 ranking. Sampras left on top, beating his main rival Agassi, whom he has faced numerous times in his career.
Today Agassi is still competing at a high level and is the favorite to win. He will be the mentor for the future of U.S. Tennis in James Blake and Andy Roddick.
Blake had a great tournament and reached the third round before losing to second-seeded Roger Federer. Roddick won the U.S. Open title decisively, defeating Federer, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.
Though the tennis world lost two greats in Chang and Sampras, and a fireball in Tarango, the future looks bright with many young players showing excellent talent.
07-02-2005, 07:15 PM
EL ESTADOUNIDENSE TIENE 32 AÑOS
Sampras anunciará el lunes su adiós a la competición
NUEVA YORK (EEUU).- El estadounidense Pete Sampras, ganador de 14 títulos de Grand Slam, anunciará oficialmente su retirada de la competición en el transcurso de una ceremonia-homenaje que se celebrará en Nueva York el próximo lunes, día en el que dará comienzo el Abierto de Estados Unidos.
El pasado Abierto de Estados Unidos supuso el último capítulo en la carrera del tenista de Washington, considerado por muchos como el mejor tenista de todos los tiempos, después de alzarse con la victoria y romper una sequía de más de dos años tras conquistar Wimbledon, su torneo favorito, en 2000.
Sampras se impuso en la final, que bien podía haberse registrado la década anterior y que parecía prolongarse en el tiempo, a su compatriota Andre Agassi y amplió su lista de torneos de 'Grand Slam' hasta catorce. El tenista de Washington, que ya había superado en 2000 con su victoria en Wimbledon la marca del australiano Roy Emerson en el palmarés de torneos del 'Grand Slam', amplió un poco más su 'reinado' y consiguió una marca difícilmente superable en un futuro, pero que cuenta con el pero de no haberse adjudicado nunca Roland Garros.
UNA DÉCADA DE ENSUEÑO
El estadounidense comenzó su peregrinaje en las citas de 'Grand Slam' en 1990, cuando dejó patente su calidad después de deshacerse de leyendas como Lendl, McEnroe o Agassi, con lo que se convertía en el tenista más joven en hacerse con el título, con 19 años y 28 días. A partir de ese momento comenzó una cadena de éxitos con 64 títulos individuales, que le permitió apuntarse al menos un torneo por temporada, una marca que se rompió en 2001, pero que retomó el año pasado con su victoria en las pistas de Flushing Meadows.
Las sucesivas victorias llevaron a Sampras a lo más alto en la clasificación de la ATP, que encabezó durante 267 semanas consecutivas, desde 1993 a 1998, lo que le permitió ser el primer tenista en terminar durante seis temporadas consecutivas como número uno mundial. Sampras, que se ha mantenido dentro del 'top-ten' del ránking mundial en las últimas doce temporadas, ha mantenido un idilio especial con Wimbledon, torneo en el que venció en siete de sus diez últimas apariciones.
La victoria en la cita londinense en 2000 supuso que el estadounidense igualara con Bjon Borg como los dos únicos tenistas que han sumado títulos en torneos de 'Grand Slam' durante ocho temporadas consecutivas. Los detractores de Sampras siempre le achacarán el no haber mostrado su mejor imagen en la arcilla roja, donde su impaciencia siempre le impidió conseguir cotas superiores. De hecho, su mejor resultado fue el de jugar las semifinales en 1996.
07-02-2005, 07:19 PM
Needling the Champs
Both Pete Sampras and Venus Williams recently used acupuncture to help heal tennis injuries
Tennis stars Pete Sampras and Venus Williams entered this year's U.S. Open as the favorites. Both were coming off impressive victories seven weeks earlier at Wimbledon. But the reigning kings and queens of the hardcourt share another similarity: acupuncture.
Of the two, Sampras has enjoyed the greatest success with the ancient Chinese procedure. In the early rounds of Wimbledon, his chances of winning for a record seventh time appeared nil. He seemed disheartened, and acute tendinitis in his left shin curtailed his mobility on the court. But halfway through Wimbledon, Sampras came alive, advancing to the final, where he defeated Aussie Patrick Rafter.
In the men's dressing room, there was grumbling about Sampras faking it. The shin injury wasn't as serious as he had let on. Even though most had heard about him visiting a London acupuncturist for the shin, few put much faith in such treatment.
In winning Wimbledon, Sampras exhibited newfound energy--often a benefit of those going under the needle.
Heading into the U.S. Open in New York, Sampras had stopped trying to explain his sudden turnabout.
"I'm tired of talking about the injury," he says. "A lot of players think whatever they think. You can just tell. But I've always prided myself on getting through."
Left unsaid was that the top star in men's tennis may have discovered a new way of "getting through" with acupuncture. In winning Wimbledon, Sampras exhibited newfound energy--often a benefit of those going under the needle.
Acupuncture practitioners employ needles with rounded tips that slip a quarter of an inch into the skin. A therapist then gently twists or twirls them, or simply leaves the needles in for up to 10 minutes. Some acupuncturists also stimulate the body's healing powers with a weak electrical current or with heat, burning herbs such as mugwort.
A University of Maryland study estimates that 1 million Americans use acupuncture to treat aches and pains. The U.S. National Institutes of Health states that the treatment is helpful for headaches, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma--even tennis elbow.
But Sampras and Williams have tried acupuncture in different areas with various degrees of success. While Sampras has refused to further discuss his treatments for his shin, Williams tried everything, from massage therapy to acupuncture when she developed tendinitis in both wrists last fall. She eventually took six months off, and some feared she might have to retire from the sport. In her case, acupuncture didn't appear to have an immediate effect; Williams isn't quite sure why her tendinitis lifted. But she did join Sampras in the winner's circle at Wimbledon's Centre Court.
Robert Duggan of the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia, Maryland, cautions that acupuncture and those who practice it don't set out to "fix" a specific ailment or disease.
"[An] acupuncture student is reminded repeatedly not to label a patient (nor allow patients to label themselves) with disease words: asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, or even the expressions that often appear in Oriental medicine, such as 'Rising Liver Fire' or 'Water Causative Factor' or 'stuck chi,'" Duggan wrote in Meridians magazine.
Instead, he urges those involved in acupuncture to remember that the needle is just one part of healing. What practitioners do while using their tools, Duggan says, is to remind their patients of "living fully."
As one who has practiced acupuncture for 25 years, Duggan says he knows "very well how essential the needle and other therapies can be in moving forward the healing process." Still, he fears "that emphasizing the power of these techniques will obscure the fact that they are only one element of a much more complicated process--the awakening of an individual's own healing process."
Perhaps without fully realizing it, that's what Sampras and Williams have done.
07-02-2005, 07:26 PM
Tale of the Tennis Titans
Agassi and Sampras prepare for Grand Slam showdowns
By Cliff Drysdale
As tennis season reaches full boil, the biggest story in the men's game is the rivalry between Americans Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. Just as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dominated the National Basketball Association in the 1980s, Agassi and Sampras make anyone else a distant third. No others have ever struck the ball as well.
The rivalry thrives on contrasts. Agassi, armed with the best return of serve ever, loves attention. He treats matches as crusades and energizes crowds. Sampras, owner of the greatest serve in history, has been so consistently first-rate that he can promptly diffuse any threat--to the point where his excellence is almost taken for granted. Off the court, Agassi is visceral, confessional, eager to interact. Sampras is subdued, private, innately remote.
With two of the sport's four prestigious Grand Slam events pending--the clay-court French Open runs from May 29 to June 11 and Wimbledon, tennis's counterpart to golf's Masters tournament, starts two weeks later on grass--an update of this fascinating rivalry is in order. By winning the French and U.S. Open titles, Agassi finished 1999 ranked number one on the ATP Tour computer. Yet Agassi knew his preeminence was marred by an asterisk: an injury had kept Sampras from squaring off with him at the U.S. Open. Moreover, Sampras had won four of their five matches in 1999, including straight-set victories, in the final of Wimbledon and the season-ending ATP Tour Championships.
The asterisk inspired Agassi to work furiously over the Christmas holidays. As 2000 began, he wanted desperately to eliminate any doubt that he was the world's best player.
All eyes were riveted on January's Australian Open and the Agassi-Sampras semifinal. When Sampras took a lead of two sets to one, I wondered if a defeat would trigger an Agassi tailspin similar to the one he'd experienced when Sampras beat him in the finals of the 1995 U.S. Open. In the two years following that match, Agassi plummeted from number one to 141 in the world.
But after being two points away from losing this year in Australia, Agassi roared back. He showed newfound grit and improved court speed as he has so often over the past year. Two days later, he won his sixth Grand Slam title. Not since Rod Laver won them all in 1969 has a male player equaled Agassi's feat of reaching four straight Grand Slam finals.
As for Sampras, 1999 was the first year since 1992 that he did not finish ranked number one. Sharing the men's record of 12 Grand Slam singles titles, Sampras remains eager to win big tournaments and regain the top spot. But he'll have to get past Agassi to be number one again. Even when Agassi was out of the top 100, Sampras considered Agassi his biggest rival. This New & Improved Agassi is for real.
The catalyst for the resurgence of the Sampras-Agassi rivalry is Agassi's maturity. The old Agassi was vulnerable to pressure. His career path resembled a roller coaster ride. But two years ago, at 28, he realized there weren't going to be many more chances to swing back to the top. He and his trainer, Gil Reyes, embarked on a fitness regimen that improved his mobility and stamina.
While fitness is critical for any athlete, Agassi, a baseliner, needs it more than Sampras, a big server. Agassi's physical strength translates into the single most important factor in tennis: confidence.
And a confident Andre Agassi plays extraordinary tennis. This has been true since he burst onto the scene in 1986. Back then, Ivan Lendl called him "a haircut and a forehand." But Lendl, perhaps smarting over his own lack of charisma, was wrong. Unquestionably, from the get-go Agassi was promoting an image. The hype and the hair seemed purposeful, precisely what you'd expect from a Las Vegas-bred phenom. He's made good on the hype. The hair is gone.
Even as a teenager, Agassi backed up his "Image Is Everything" tagline with wonderful strokes and tournament victories. Now, at 30, he has the finest forehand-backhand combination I've ever seen. Agassi reminds me of Tiger Woods. You simply don't want to walk away when he's playing. Like Tiger, Andre is always compelling and frequently brilliant.
Agassi's hand-eye coordination is unequaled. He sees the ball earlier than anyone and hits it sooner and harder. Imagine a boxer pounding away with these assets and you'll get an idea of Agassi's relentless pressure.
I think he's got two or three more years of top tennis in him. He could win another four Slams, leaving him with 10--ahead of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, and just behind such titans as Bjorn Borg, Laver and Sampras.
THE SECRET OF SAMPRAS
Sampras is a different animal from Agassi. In the spirit of his heroes, Australians Laver and Ken Rosewall, he lets his racket do the talking. To me, that's a bit of a cop-out. In today's big-money, mass-media world, it would be great for tennis if Sampras were more forthcoming.
Yet as an athlete, Sampras has honored his profession. Unlike Agassi, his ambition is unwavering. No one except Sampras has ever finished the year ranked number one for six consecutive seasons. While Agassi continues to pursue greatness, if Sampras quit today he would still be ranked in the highest echelon.
But Sampras wants to achieve a lot more. He's deceptively driven and tenacious. That's hard to detect because his points are often so short. But if you pay attention to Sampras during a match, you'll see someone who moves like a panther and strikes like a cobra.
He's the most complete player in tennis history. At 14, Sampras abandoned his two-handed backhand for a versatile one-hander. He's comfortable at the baseline and adroit at the net. And his serve--unquestionably the most important shot in the sport--is textbook, a relaxed, fluid motion delivered with power and pinpoint placement.
Losing to Agassi in Australia motivated the daylights out of Sampras. Like Laver, Sampras strikes back powerfully when wounded. His biggest concerns will be his health and getting enough match play under his belt.
So what can we expect from Agassi-Sampras over the coming months? Even though Agassi is the favorite in Paris, he'll face many challenges. Past champions like Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Gustavo Kuerten and Carlos Moya are hungry. Other talents like Marcelo Rios, Cedric Pioline and Alex Corretja must be considered. Yet most threatening to Agassi are the dozens of faceless grinders who can retrieve enough balls to force him into errors. Grubbing through seven matches like this can frustrate even the greatest of players.
Sampras has only once reached the semis in Paris. It's fascinating to watch an attacker like Pete try to think his way through the slow clay. There's no doubt in my mind that Sampras can win in Paris. I believe he should play more European clay events than he has in the past and learn to feel comfortable attacking on his terms rather than get seduced into hanging back at the baseline.
But the truth is that Agassi has a better chance at Wimbledon than Sampras does at the French. Agassi has won Wimbledon once and reached the final last year. If London's weather is hot, the soft grass will play more like a hard court--Agassi's favorite surface.
That said, Sampras is a much greater favorite to win Wimbledon than Agassi is to win in Paris. Sampras is the king of Wimbledon, having won six of the last seven (46 matches won, 1 lost). If his game suffers a 25 percent penalty at the French, at Wimbledon he gains a 25 percent reward. Besides his tremendous serve, Sampras's high-quality ground game constantly challenges opposing servers. Once he breaks serve, you might as well start another set.
While other attackers like Mark Philippoussis, Greg Rusedski, Richard Krajicek, Todd Martin, Tim Henman, Patrick Rafter or Goran Ivanisevic could make an impact at Wimbledon, their injuries and mental shortcomings keep me from betting on any of them to topple Sampras.
So here's how tennis 2000 shakes out: Agassi and Sampras will fight for the top spot all year long like two dogs wrestling for a bone. No matter where these two meet, no matter what the surface, bullets will fly and the tennis will be brilliant. But not until September's U.S. Open will we truly reach high noon.
Cliff Drysdale is a tennis commentator for ESPN and a former pro. Joel Drucker, a Cigar Aficionado contributor, collaborated on this article.
07-02-2005, 07:30 PM
Wednesday, September 11, 2002
Jonny Shwab, Sports Columnist
Just the other day, as my column deadline closed in, I realized that I would have the task, the chance, really, to articulate the meaning of sports on a day in which we as a country are called upon to reflect our values and mourn those lost in the terrorist attacks last year.
From the basic standpoint, sports don't exactly go hand-in-hand with the situation. After all, as Mr. Crane pointed out in his column yesterday, the professional sports leagues abruptly cancelled games to pay respect to victims after 9/11.
The unique result of the invention of sports and games is the fact that you can win or lose and then go and play again. You have a real life outside of the game, and no matter how tragic the loss or how glorious the victory, other responsibilities or ties will influence you to move on from the loss or get over the victory.
So why are we talking about this in the same light as Sept. 11?
What happened last weekend in tennis at the U.S. Open in New York was an example of the kind of perseverance that relates sports to America's recovery.
I'm not talking about four Americans filling up final spots of the men's and women's tournaments, or even Pete Sampras or Serena Williams winning for the country in the city that's been through so much in the past year.
I'm referring to the aging veterans, Sampras and Andre Agassi, powering their way to the finals to maintain a rivalry that is more than a decade old.
Sampras, who with his 14 Grand Slam titles is arguably considered the greatest men's tennis player ever, appeared to age in decades rather then years since winning his seventh Wimbledon in 2000. Agassi, recently married to tennis legend Steffi Graf and now a father, has had more recent success but has fallen out of the rankings and had to come back more times than any recent tennis player. To add to the pressure, each time is usually written off as his last rise to the top.
Still, the two made a show out there on American asphalt, drawing the most viewers since Sampras defeated Agassi 12 years ago at the U.S. Open to win his first Grand Slam title.
The two were so emotionally drained from this four-set match, it's no surprise both of them declined the opportunity to compete in the Davis Cup in Paris to give their younger countrymen the chance to play in the team event.
The team captains would certainly not object to them playing, but each felt it was time stop and reflect, something I hope each of you can do today.
The wounds of Sept. 11, of course, cannot be healed in the tennis world, and, for some, the pain will always remain. What I have gotten from sports is a sense of substance to life that former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said we should all go out and experience to get us back into the flow of things after the mourning.
When you take time out today to remember or just to listen to what others have to say about the events a year ago, set aside your own victories and losses and remember who you are and what you stand for.
For many Americans, part of who they are is highly influenced by someone who was killed or wounded in the terrorist attacks.
Others could look at something in their own identity that would give them definition -- a baseball fan, a student, a teacher or a politician.
In the case of Sampras and Agassi, the two gents renewed a rivalry that had seemed to empty out, gave life to a matchup that seemed to be whittling away as the men moved into their thirties.
Soon Sampras also will be a father and will have something else to liven up, a whole new responsibility outside of sports.
Regardless, the games always will be there, they will just shift to the background when appropriate.
In the end, it often comes to a simple decision that Sampras and Agassi are thankful to have made: sometimes you just have to pick up your racket and play.
American men's tennis is in a weird place right now. Of the three older living legends right now, one is on top of his game, one is on hiatus with his future in question and the youngest of the three is about to retire.
They all continue to behave weirdly, if not badly. There's no wonder you don't see people hanging out around campus talking tennis.
The U.S. tennis motto used to be, "The more things change, the more things stay the same." Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang marked something of a golden age of the sport or at least a seamless transition of the tantrum-prone John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors to players just as good if not better.
Every time I really want to like Agassi, he goes and does something stupid or perplexing. Right now, at 32, he continues to be the hottest player in the world, having won all 12 of his matches this year, including a 6-3, 6-1 win over Italian Davide Sanguinetti in the Siebel Open final in San Jose, Calif., Sunday.
What's odd about Agassi is that while he seems to place great importance on beating some run-of-the-mill Italian at some run-of-the-mill tournament in San Jose, he decided not to play in the Davis Cup tournament last weekend in Croatia, where the U.S. once again was humiliated and sent back to Group Play, the minor leagues of international tennis.
It's not that Agassi has never shown patriotic pride or doesn't know its meaning. When he won the 1996 Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, he called it "the greatest accomplishment I've ever had in this sport." His father Mike was an Olympic boxer for Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics and explained the importance of participating for one's country to him.
Flash forward to this year. Agassi wins the Australian Open, the first major of the year, and announces as part of a wager with his wife Steffi Graf -- you may remember her from her 22 Grand Slam singles titles and her 1997 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue photos -- that the two will play mixed doubles at the French Open in May. (Graf had bet against her husband winning.)
Forget for a second that Agassi and Graf, two extremely inexperienced doubles players, wouldn't stand a chance even if their opponents each put a leg in a potato sack and play three-legged. Why is Agassi devoting his energy to such a lame pursuit while sitting out the Davis Cup? It's not like we can just beat anybody without him. Hell, we barely beat Zimbabwe a couple of years ago without him.
Yes, this would be the same Agassi, who once proclaimed himself the leader of the "Rock and Roll Tennis" movement and then had a "special friendship" with Barbara Streisand at the same time.
That leads us to Michael Chang, who once drew Agassi's ire because he didn't play enough Davis Cup. Chang announced his retirement effective at the end of this year's U.S. Open. At 5-foot-9-inches and 160 pounds, he almost never had a size advantage over his opponent, but he more than got by on his speed, hustle, guile and smarts -- he won the 1989 French Open at age 17, and when he needed to up his game a notch, he got a racket with a bigger head and developed a 130 mph serve that got him to No. 2 in the rankings in 1996.
Chang's behavior, though, was too unusual for him to achieve mass acceptance. He is so religious that he missed the 1993 Australian Open because of Bible study classes. No, I am not saying that studying the Bible is unusual, but missing a Grand Slam event, an event that often defines a player, is. Fans would wait forever for his autograph as he wouldn't merely sign his name but put, "Jesus loves you, Michael Chang."
While Chang has announced his retirement, no one knows about Sampras' future. I really, really like Sampras because as much as we Greeks dominate the sports world and then marry beautiful blondes like Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, it never gets old. He hasn't played since his U.S. Open win last September over Agassi, the tennis equivalent to Jack Nicklaus' win at the 1986 Masters. He backed out of the Siebel Open at the last minute only saying he wasn't prepared. To be fair, he recently became a father for the first time, perhaps stealing away some of his attention.
With his record 14 Grand Slam titles and 276 weeks at No. 1, Sampras makes a good claim at being the best ever. However, he is duller than skim milk and the tax code combined. "I never wanted to be the great guy or the colorful guy or the interesting guy," Sampras once said. "I wanted to be the guy who won titles."
Sampras has taught us one thing though: that even boring people can snag beautiful blondes. By the way, does anybody want to hear about the tax code?
07-02-2005, 07:43 PM
Jour Par Jour,Sampras
Dates décroissantes Titres seulement
Pete Sampras entre dans la légende du tennis
Le tennisman américain Pete Sampras remporte pour la septième fois les internationaux d'Angleterre de Wimbledon. Il bat l'australien Patrick Rafter en quatre sets: 6/7, 7/6, 6/4, 6/2. A 29 ans, Pete Sampras est le seul joueur à avoir totalisé le plus grand nombre de victoires en finale du Grand Chelem. Avec deux titres à l'Open d'Australie, quatre à l'US Open et sept à Wimbledon, il totalise 13 victoires.
Bidding farewell to tennis are two greats — Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. Leaving the courts behind will probably be the most difficult decision they have ever taken.
On August 25, for one final time, Pete Sampras held a Centre Court crowd spellbound as he finally walked away from the sport, which turned him into one of America's all-time greats. Tributes and tears filled Arthur Ashe Stadium as Pete Sampras took an emotional final bow at the U.S. Open. Movie stars, politicians, past champions, Sampras' family and friends along with thousands of ordinary tennis fans filled the centre court to honour the man widely considered the best to swing a racket.
"I know in my heart I'm done, 100 per cent done," Sampras said. "I think I'm going out on my terms. It's not painful. It's emotional. It's a closed chapter. But a part of me is still out there.
"This is something that I love to do and which I have been doing since I was seven. I was emotional just driving here. Saying goodbye is not easy. But I know in my heart it's time." Sampras, who is 32 and became a father in November last, leaves with 64 singles titles, including a record 14 at Grand Slam tournaments: seven at Wimbledon, five at the U.S. Open and two at the Australian Open. Known for his mild-mannered demeanour off and on the court, Sampras wiped away tears during the tribute, which also included a three-minute highlight video with clips from each of his major final victories and taped words from Andre Agassi. Sampras was given a plaque with a photo of him in his trademark pose of jumping for an overhead smash, with a red superhero's cape superimposed. The plaque read, "In a career that spanned three decades, Pete Sampras rewrote the record books for the men's game and redefined the word `champion'."
Tributes from John McEnroe, Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Boris Becker were nearly too much for Sampras. "This is pretty overwhelming. I'm touched," Sampras told the crowd. "I'm going to miss playing here. But I know in my heart it's time to say goodbye."
A determined, relentless competitor, he is mentioned more than any other player of his generation as the role model and inspiration for the current crop of youngsters making their mark on the tennis scene. He will be forever associated with Wimbledon, where his skills translated perfectly to grass, and where he went 56-1 while winning seven titles in eight years.
Last year's U.S. Open title was particularly sweet, given that Sampras hadn't won any tournament in more than two years. The man he beat in the third round, 1997 finalist Greg Rusedski, called Sampras "a step and a half slow" — but Sampras just kept winning en route to what he called the happiest moment of his career.
Sampras came full circle, having won his first Slam in Flushing Meadows at the age of 19 in 1990 and his last there a year ago.
After the ceremony, Sampras took a lap around the court with his son in his arms while Pearl Jam's song "Alive" blared overhead and fans stood. After a full circle, Sampras kept walking, right through the door that leads to the locker rooms.
"While Sampras waited a year after his last match — beating Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final — to tell the world that he was finished, Chang has been on a farewell tour since the beginning of the season and made clear the U.S. Open would be it for him. And unlike the half hour tribute to Sampras, there was no big celebration of Chang's career on August 26.
Only a few thousand fans were on hand for the start of his match against No.15 seeded Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, but, as always, Chang gave it his all.
"On court it would be nice to be able to be remembered as a person that gave his best — win, lose or draw," said Chang, whose career highlight was winning the 1989 French Open at the age of 17. "It's going to be tough leaving tennis."
Chang used to be among highly seeded players, reaching No. 2 in the rankings. He would have made it to the No. 1 had he beaten Sampras in the 1996 U.S. Open final. But now, at 31, he is a step slower, and can't get to the shots he used to. He won just two of 12 matches this year.
One by one, the generation of American stars who grew up playing junior tennis against each other in the 1980s and collected Grand Slam singles titles together for more than a decade is calling it quits.
"It's a weird feeling. You just sort of expect to leave the dance with the ones you came with. When they decide that it's time for them, it's a sad feeling," said Agassi, truly summing up the feeling of the millions of fans around the world.
07-07-2005, 08:33 PM
History awaits at Centre Court
Sampras seeks to continue personal Wimbledon tradition
Click here for more on this story
Posted: Saturday July 04, 1998
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- It's a Wimbledon tradition, just like Strawberries, cream and rain: Pete Sampras standing proudly on the Centre Court lawn, holding high the most treasured trophy in tennis.
The scene has become familiar in the 1990s, and Sampras hopes to repeat it Sunday. He'll bid for his fifth Wimbledon title in six years against big-serving Goran Ivanisevic.
"This place over the years has brought out the best in me," Sampras said. "It's been treating me pretty well."
History is always in the air at the All England Club, and that will be the case Sunday. With a victory, Sampras would match Bjorn Borg's modern men's singles record of five Wimbledon titles, which the Swede won consecutively in 1976-80.
H.L. Doherty also won five times in the first decade of this century. W.C. Renshaw holds the record with seven titles, all in the 1880s.
A win would give Sampras 11 Grand Slam titles, tying him with Borg and Rod Laver for second place on the all-time list. Roy Emerson holds the men's record with 12 titles.
In sum, a victory by the 26-year-old Sampras would strengthen the argument that he's the greatest player of all time
"Sampras is our Michael Jordan at this point," said three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, a commentator for NBC-TV.
London bookmakers list Sampras as a 1-3 favorite, in part because he's 4-0 in Wimbledon finals and 26-1 on Centre Court, with the only loss in the 1996 quarterfinals to eventual champion Richard Krajicek.
But Ivanisevic poses a threat because of his thundering left-handed serve. Both players have topped 132 mph during the fortnight, and as in any match between big servers on grass, the final could be decided by just a handful of points.
"You're going to have to ride the wave with Goran," Sampras said. "He's going to hit his aces. He's going to hit his double-faults."
Ivanisevic, a Wimbledon runnerup in 1992 and 1994, survived a 15-13 fifth set against Krajicek in the semifinals.
"I don't think he's going to win," Krajicek said of Ivanisevic. "There were a few holes in his game. He's playing good, but I don't think Pete would let him get away with what he got away with against me."
The 26-year-old Ivanisevic's quick temper has always been blamed for his failure to win a Grand Slam. The Croatian's poise was tested in the semifinals, when he blew a two-set lead and failed to convert a pair of match points.
McEnroe -- and most everyone else -- expected Ivanisevic to fold at that point.
"You say, `Forget about it. Here's Mr. Mental Midget. He's gone,'" McEnroe said. "That's been his knock in the past."
Instead, Ivanisevic rallied from a break down in the epic fifth set to earn a shot at Sampras.
Ivanisevic trails the series 10-6 and has won only one of the past eight meetings, but they haven't met since 1996. They've played twice at Wimbledon, with Sampras winning in straight sets in the 1994 final and in five sets in the 1995 semifinals.
Sunday, Ivanisevic said, may be different.
"Pete has just maybe a slight advantage in that he knows how it is to feel that victory," Ivanisevic said. "You know, he was holding the trophy four times. But I think we're both going to be a little nervous, and I think this year I have the best chance."
Both finalists are best on grass, and the return to Wimbledon has helped them shake long slumps. Ivanisevic, a former top-five player now ranked 25th, had won only one match in his previous five Grand Slams. He began the tournament a 20-1 longshot to win the title.
Sampras entered as the favorite, even though he had failed to reach the semifinals in the past three majors. This year Sampras' results have been so far below par that if he loses Sunday, he'll drop to No. 2 in the rankings behind Marcelo Rios.
But although Sampras spoke recently about how badly he needs a vacation, Wimbledon has erased any doubts regarding his motivation.
"It would be nice to win every week, but I'm not going to," he said. "I'm going to have my bad days. But I've been pretty consistent since I've been here at Wimbledon, and I certainly hope I can do it one more time."
A 10-2 record in Grand Slam finals suggests that Sampras is at his best in pressure situations. But he was uncharacteristically testy during a semifinal victory over Tim Henman, complaining to the chair umpire and tossing a broken racket into the stands.
"I was very intense," Sampras said. "You have to be at this level, and at this stage in the tournament."
He knows what's at stake, even without looking at the record book.
07-07-2005, 08:41 PM
Sampras on roll and having fun
Cincinnati always a good time for him
By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer
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.”
Sampras power earns glory
By John Parsons
The clamour to reduce the dominance of service power in men's tennis is bound to intensify after another Wimbledon final in which rallies were a precious commodity.
One rally of eight shots in the 10th game of the first set was the longest on offer as Pete Sampras, the defending champion trounced Goran Ivanisevic 7-6, 7-6, 6-0 in the shortest final since John McEnroe overwhelmed Jimmy Connors in 1984. It was almost certainly the hottest, too, as temperatures touched 116 degrees on Centre Court.
This 108th Wimbledon final lasted 115 minutes, four minutes less than the classic women's singles final 24 hours earlier when Conchita Martinez became the first Spanish winner of the event, denying Martina Navratilova's magnificent challenge.
Sampras, who has now won four of the last five Grand Slam tournaments, missing out only at the French, raced through the third set against a totally demoralised opponent in a mere 19 minutes, conceding only seven points. It was only the third love set in a final - and the first in a match-winning set - since the last of Fred Perry's three successive victories, in 1936.
Ivanisevic, who admitted he had been thrashed by a player who was "just too good", struck another 25 aces and Sampras 17, taking their totals respectively over seven matches to 165 and 117.
Yet brilliantly though both players served, especially in the first two sets, before the Croatian lost heart after dropping his second tie-break, you can have too much of a good thing. The sooner now that ways can be found of slowing the balls for grass-court matches, the better.
This year's final should accelerate such a change, the only one immediately practical and one which is currently being urged upon the International Tennis Federation.
Other ideas have been mooted - returning to the old foot-fault rule of the 1950s whereby the server had to keep part of one foot in touch with the ground behind the line until the ball had been delivered.
More recently too, restrictions on the size of racket heads and their flexibility have been mentioned, though trying to turn the clock back on racket technology could prove to be a commercial and legal minefield.
With hindsight, the damage was done in the mid-1970s when, in introducing rules governing the size, composition and stringing, etc, of rackets for the first time, the game should have insisted upon wooden rackets only.
A buzz of excitement went round this marvellous arena when Ivanisevic, with apparent ease of delivery, struck three aces in his first service game. Before long, however, apart from the obvious drama created in the tie-breaks, the excitement was mainly restricted in the first set to the way Ivanisevic saved two break points at 3-4, and three set points at 4-5.
"We're doomed," said a voice near me as Ivanisevic escaped. "Doomed to tie-breaks," he continued, like Private Fraser from Dad's Army. In fairness to Sampras, who has clearly achieved his teenage dream of becoming "a right-handed version of Rod Laver", he did illustrate more variety and occasional touches of subtlety than Ivanisevic.
He had brought his game to a peak at the right time and underlined his greater mental strength by repeating his effort against Jim Courier in last year's Wimbledon final when he also took a two-set lead on tie-breaks.
Then Courier pounced on one brief lapse of concentration in the third set and kept the match alive. This time, Ivanisevic, once he had double-faulted on the first point of the second game and was broken to love, knew he had no chance.
Against Becker in the semi- finals Ivanisevic never missed a first serve in the tie-break. In the first yesterday against Sampras he missed three out of four, most crucially from 2-3 to 2-5, allowing the American to punish him with stunning and well-directed returns.
Although there was an exchange of mini-breaks in the second-set tie-break, Sampras edged ahead 6-5 and then took it as Ivanisevic was unable to control the pace of the top seed's next return.
Sampras, who began the final game with a perfect backhand, reached match point with his third perfectly-executed lob over his 6ft 4in rival. Then, with the title, which he will value infinitely more than the #345,000 prize money, secured as Ivanisevic put a forehand volley wide, Sampras not only threw his racket into the crowd, but followed it with two of his shirts as additional prized souvenirs.
"Winning the first time is something you'll never forget. Maybe the second is just a little bit sweeter," said Sampras, who is almost too close to perfect for his - and the game's - own good.
07-19-2005, 10:50 PM
"Now that he has served up a U.S. Open title at 19, Pete Sampras
insists he won't 'flake off and get a bad attitude'"
By Bruce Newman, Sports Illustrated
October, 1990 (date not confirmed)
Pete Sampras is trying not to change: change clothes, change his
game, change lanes, change the music, change his smile, change
rooms, change the cute way he scratches his head when he answers
"I think what's so cute about him is he's just another kid," says
Ivan Lendl. " I don't think he's fully realized what's happened to
To Pete: A cute and sweet guy. Don't ever change.
Change cars, change religions, change your hair, change any bill
larger than a 20, change phone numbers, change the water into wine,
change partners and dance. "Dear Pete," writes Marie Shay, an
admirer from Haverford, Pa. "Please continue the same dress code and
don't let the designers change you. We need a clean-cut young
person like you to set an example for the kids." Marie adds, for
good measure that Andre Agassi "looks as if he came out of a ragbag
and a dark closet."
Hey, Peeeeeete! Stay just the way you are and don't ever change.
Sampras Has been trying not to change. "I'm a nice kid with a good
attitude," he says, as if trying to remind himself, "and I'm not
going to change."
There, you see? Ever since Sampras ragbagged Agassi in straight sets
in the finals of the U.S. Open last month, people who had never even
heard of him before his victory here have been telling him – begging
him – not to change. At 19 he is the youngest men's winner in the
history of the U.S. championships, just over five months younger
than Oliver Campbell was when he won the title in 1890. "I think of
Pete not as a man of 19," says his father, Soterios, know to nearly
everyone as Sam. "I think of him as my little boy."
Maybe that's it. Maybe that's who Pete Sampras is after all.
America's little boy. "I'm just a normal 19-year-old growing up
with a very unusual job," he says.
Peeeeeete! Don't forget to take out the garbage and put away the
Grand Slam. Pete?
"If I flake off and get a bad attitude, I'll be disappointed," says
Sampras. "I want to be the same person that I was two months ago."
One reason Sampras is running so hard to stay in place is that he
has done almost nothing but change for the past five years. He has
gone from short (5'5") to tall (6 feet), become a high school
dropout, changed rackets (wood to graphite), changed his ranking
(off the computer to fifth in the world), changed his backhand,
changed coaches and – like most kids – changed his mind. One of his
After Sampras became the first American male to prevail at Flushing
Meadow since 1984, when John McEnroe won the last of his four titles
there, and had sent his 13th ace (and 100th for the tournament)
whizzing past Agassi's earring on championship point, the first
person he thanked on national television was Dr. Peter Fischer, a
California pediatrician. "I don't know if I would be here right now
if it wasn't for him," Sampras said, leaving a breathless nation to
wonder whether Fischer had cured him of some particularly lethal
strain of the mumps. Would future teen champs thank their
Fischer, however, had done something far more medically complex than
merely treating Sampras; he treated him like a sacred, if somewhat
empty, vessel. "He's a very weird guy, but brilliant," says
Sampras. "Maybe too brilliant. He wanted to put his brain in my
body." Fischer came remarkably close to completing this transplant,
until Sampras began about a year ago to develop a mind of his own,
at which point it began to get crowded in there.
If you had to have someone trying to stick his brain into you body,
chances are you would want that person to be Fischer, who has so
many brain cells to spare that they appear to have formed a lava
dome at the top of his head. Fischer has an IQ of 190 perched atop
a body that never quite knew how to take instructions. Only by dint
of sheer determination did Fischer forge himself into a B-level
tennis player with a game that, by his own description, "aspires to
When Sampras and his father first encountered Fischer, in 1979 at
the Jack Kramer Tennis Club near their home in Rancho Palos Verdes,
Calif., Fischer lacked the game, the golden tan and even the fleecy
white hair that are standard issue for modern-day tennis coaches.
Fischer was hitting with a ranked junior player the day that Sam
approached him about coaching his son, who was seven at the
time. "I guess I must have looked good," says Fischer, "or Pete's
dad knew very little about tennis."
"So how much do you charge?" Sam inquired.
Fischer, whose previous coaching experience, as someone would later
point out, consisted almost entirely of teaching newborns how to
take their first few breaths, thought for a moment and
"You're hired," said Sam.
The elder Sampras still refers to tennis as "a sport for the upper
class," and rarely does he miss an opportunity to distance himself
from the ranks of the dread Tennis Parent. The son of Greek and
Eastern European immigrants, Soterios grew up in Chicago before
moving to 1965 to Washington, D.C., where he met the woman he would
soon marry. Georgia Vroustrous had left Greece when she was 19,
with no more of an idea of how to speak English than how to put it
on a tennis ball. She was working in a beauty parlor when she and
Sam were married.
Sam worked for seven years as an aerospace engineer for the
government during the day and at night ran a delicatessen in which
he was a part-owner, in McLean, Va. He and his wife saved enough
money to move their four children – Gus, now 22, Stella, 21, Pete
and Marion, 17 – from the chilly East to the more Mediterranean
climes of Southern California. The set out across the continent
with everything they owned lashed to the top of the family car. Six
people and a parrot named Jose crammed into a Ford Pinto for seven
days. "We looked like the Griswalds in Vacation," says Gus.
Not long before the family moved to California, Pete had discovered
an old wooden tennis racket in the basement and spent hours down
there whacking balls against the wall. When Pete was six, he and
Stella went with their father to a court at a public park in
Torrance, down the hill from their new home in Rancho Palos Verdes,
and Sam watched in amazement as his son ran down the balls and
gracefully stroked them back with fluid, two-handed strokes. "I had
never seen anybody get on a court for the first time and hit the
ball so smoothly," Sam says. "Like it was the easiest thing in the
Pete and Stella became fixtures on the courts. Sam and Georgia took
turns hitting basket after basket of balls to their kids – despite
the fact that neither parent played – to save the expense of
lessons. A membership in a private tennis club was out of the
question at that time, but not for financial reasons. "I was going
to let them grow up like normal kids and forget about tennis," Sam
However, two strangers who happened to see Pete Hitting in the park
one day convinced Sam that his son was a prodigy. The two men
persuaded Sam that the boy needed the sort of guidance he could get
only at a club, never dreaming that when they said Pete should work
with a teaching professional, Sam would begin mulling over the names
of some of his tennis-playing acquaintances – a CPA with a strong
overhead, a gynecologist with a fair forehand. So he turned Pete
over to what was certainly the country's top pediatrician
specializing in serve-and-volley. "I had never been a real coach
for anybody before Pete," Fischer says. "But as time went on, I
learned to coach and he learned to play."
Most of the time it is all Sampras can do to keep from laughing
during his matches; he is still amused and amazed by the things he
can do. The disarming grin that followed both the winners and the
blunders at the U.S. Open has always been there. "Since he was a
little boy we always called him Smiley," says Robert Lansdorp, the
teaching pro who helped tutor Sampras on his ground
strokes. "People always wanted to watch him because he always had
that smile on his face."
He has existed in on almost perfect state of grace, doing exactly
what he wanted to do with his life from such an early age that he
has no memories of life before tennis. "He was seven and swinging
as hard as he could," recalls Fischer, "and he was hitting lines and
smiling. Pete always loved the things he could do with the ball."
To make sure there was nothing he couldn't do with it, Fischer the
pediatrician referred Pete to a series of specialists in other
fields – a footwork coach, a volley coach and Lansdorp, who had
tutored Tracy Austin before she became, at 16, the youngest player
to win the U.S. Open. Lansdorp frequently dismissed Fischer as
a "well-intentioned amateur,: but by the time Sampras was nine,
Fischer was firmly entrenched as the architect of the boy's game,
and he had already conceived a grand design. "The concept of what
makes a tennis player is mine," says Fischer. "That's a hundred
percent me. What I was really offering was a thought process, not
my ability to hit tennis balls. It was a challenge. This was an
opportunity to see if I could do something that hadn't been done
since Harry Hopman's days. The idea of taking somebody from ground
zero, organizing a whole career, and possibly even changing the way
the game is played." Oh, is that all?
The idea was fairly simple: If at all possible, Sampras should be
Rod Laver. "I want to be him," Pete said once, almost plaintively.
Fischer borrowed old 16-millimeter films of Laver's matches, and
together he and his little lab project would sit in a darkened room
at Pete's house and peer into the flickering reflection of a lost
time, an image when tennis players wore white and their rackets came
"My ideal was always Laver because he could win on all surfaces,"
says Fischer. "He could win any way he wanted – and do it with
If Fischer could not inhabit Sampras' body, he came close to taking
control of his mind. "We were a left-brain, right-brain couple,"
"Pete is very instinctual and I'm analytical. The two of us meshed
Fischer began taking many of his meals at the Samprases' house,
imparting tactics between bites. "He seemed like part of the
family," Pete says. "Here I was, this little kid, and he was trying
to make me into a great tennis player. I was just playing along,
doing what he was telling me to do."
Sampras played in one of his first junior tournaments when he was
nine and lost, oh and oh, in the first round, primarily because he
was playing in the 12-and-under division. From the start, in fact,
Fischer had him playing in age groups higher than his actual one,
which meant Sampras lost a lot to bigger, stronger players. "He was
always short, just a little skinny kid," says Stella.
In addition, Fischer had him serving and volleying despite the fact
that most of the top pros at the time were baseliners – save for
McEnroe. Moreover, Sampras was still too short to have much more
than a popgun serve. "If you're a little kid playing serve-and-
volley," Fischer says, "you're going to get passed a lot. And Pete
got passed a lot."
When Sampras was 14, Fischer told him he should abandon his two-
handed backhand, his most reliable shot, because in the history of
tennis there had never been a great player with a two-fisted
backhand. The first time Sampras tried the new shot, the ball
sailed over the fence. "Pete cried," says Sam.
"He was without a doubt the best player of his age in the world at
the time he switched," Fischer says, "and he ended up losing to
people he had already beaten. But he went along with it. The goal
had always been to become a great pro, not to win trophies as a
kid. I probably have most of Pete's trophies, and there are
relatively few. He was willing to lose a few matches to learn how
to play the game."
"To lose a consistent shot and have everyone picking on my backhand
was very frustrating," says Sampras, "but eventually everything
started coming together." At the age of 15, he made the 1987 Boys'
Junior Davis Cup team and beat Michael Chang, the 18-and-under
national champion, in the second round of the U.S. Open Junior Boys'
championships. Chang had already been awarded a wild-card entry
into the main draw of the U.S. Open, where he lost in the second
round, but he still became the youngest male ever to win a match in
By then Sampras had leveled off at his current cruising altitude of
six feet, and the popgun had turned into a cannon. His deliveries
were hard and well-placed, and opponents found them almost
impossible to read. This, too, was designed by Fischer. "You can't
read Pete's serve because his motion is the same for all his serves
until he hits the ball," Fischer says. "I'd have him throw the ball
up, and then I'd call the serve – flat, topspin. He couldn't have a
different motion because he didn't know what he was going to serve
until I called it."
It was inevitable that Sampras would one day tire of Fischer's
standing over him and pulling strings as if he were a marionette.
They began to disagree about whether Sampras was working hard
enough. Then the money became an issue. Fischer, finally, wanted
to be paid. "I don't care about the money except in terms of
pride," he says. "What am I worth to him? When Pete was only
winning trophies, giving me trophies was adequate compensation. He
gave me everything he could. When Pete's making hundreds of
thousands of dollars a year, it's a little bit different."
Last November, Fischer told Sampras he didn't think he wanted to be
his coach anymore, not for free anyway. Then he told Sampras to
think it over and call him in a year. Sampras called the next
day. "Make your decision," he told Fischer. "It's now or never."
Fischer said he would not be intimidated and hung up.
They did not speak for three months, until Sampras had won his first
professional tournament, the U.S. Pro Indoors, in Philadelphia,
where in the final he defeated Andres Gomez (who would later win the
French Open). After the match, with the tournament director sitting
at his side, Sampras said, "No one remembers who won Philadelphia,
who won Memphis, any of those tournaments. The way you make a name
is the Grand Slams."
That night he called Fischer and told him he could not have won
without him. "When he's playing like Pete Sampras, it doesn't
matter who the opponent is," Fischer says. "It's like he's playing
Sampras hired a new coach, Joe Brandi, but he continued having
trouble maintaining his concentration during matches, a longtime
weakness. Once in the middle of one of Pete's junior matches,
Fischer asked Gus if he knew the score of a match on a nearby
court. Gus, who was watching his brother play, had no idea. "Why
don't you ask Pete?" Gus replied. "I'm sure he knows."
When Pete heard in June that Fred Perry had said Sampras would win
Wimbledon soon, the teenager said. "Fred, you're out of control."
Then he went out and proved it by losing in the first round to the
No. 41-ranked player in the world, Christo van Rensburg. But at
Flushing Meadow he advanced quietly through the draw until he
stunned Lendle in a dramatic five-set match in the quarters.
Sampras won the first two sets with surprising ease but then
suffered a letdown for two sets before overwhelming Lendl in the
fifth. After two days off, Sampras was petrified about a semifinal
meeting with McEnroe, who by that time had become the tournament's
favorite. But this time his concentration remained steadfast and
his serve never faltered. McEnroe was a loser in four sets.
Compared with those two old lions, Agassi was a pink pussycat. He
had lost only two sets in the tournament, yet Sampras routed him 6-
4, 6-3, 6-2. Once again, Sampras didn't hesitate to acknowledge
Fischer's contributions, when he took the microphone in the post
match interview. "That was his reward," Sampras says.
Sampras and Fischer are on friendly terms, and neither man will rule
out a professional reconciliation. But negotiations have stalled,
and Fischer is no longer consulted on tennis matters.
At dinner that evening in New York, Sampras could scarcely stop
thinking about how his life would change. "And I didn't sleep at
all that night, just lying in my bed and trying to think about what
happened and what the future was going to be like," says
Sampras. "I couldn't believe it. I was now part of an elite group.
My name was going to be on that trophy with guys like Lendl and
Becker and McEnroe and Connors and" – he stops to take a breath –
"and Laver. I couldn't believe that Pete Sampras, a 19-year-old
kid from California, was going to be on that trophy. Forever."
Some things don't ever change. Even some people.
07-19-2005, 11:19 PM
Posted May 26, 1997
The Passion Of Pete
By S.L. Price
PETE SAMPRAS MAY PRETEND THAT HE DOESN'T CARE, BUT HE FIERCELY WANTS TO BE REMEMBERED AS THE GREATEST EVER
It's time. Pete Sampras moves out of the tunnel and into the harsh light, his upper body swaying to its usual rocking rhythm, head craned forward, mouth slightly ajar. It is 8:48 on a Wednesday night in March, and the best tennis player in the world has come to Philadelphia to take his first shot at the only history that matters to him: the monumental record of Rod Laver.
The announcer booms out Sampras's name, and the sparse crowd applauds politely, but he gives no response. It is as if he is alone, and the place is tomb silent. He sits down in his courtside chair, looks up, stops. He can't believe what his eyes have done to him. Sampras wanted to be casual about this, look around, slowly get a feel for the new CoreStates Center. But he couldn't help himself. His glance flew like a dart to one face, there in the front row, the face of the man who set him off on this amazing run that has lasted 17 years.
Already Sampras can hear Pete Fischer's voice, always saying the same thing, no matter how many Grand Slam tournaments Sampras has won, no matter what time of year it is, no matter what city he's in: You don't want an asterisk next to your name, Pete. You've got to win the French. Sampras looks away, picks up his racket. A shiver passes through his stomach, and now he is nervous, more nervous than he has been in a long time. This is stupid. For four years Sampras has finished the season ranked No. 1, and his straight-set demolition of Spain's Carlos Moya in the 1997 Australian Open final gave him his ninth Grand Slam singles title. Sampras plays at a level far above that of anyone else in the game.
But now here's Fischer--not even a coach or much of a player, just a tennis-crazed retired Southern California pediatrician--sitting there, watching Sampras play in a pro tournament for the first time in eight years, and it is too much. Memories start floating through Sampras's mind: Fischer, the unpaid brains behind his game, insisting that 14-year-old Pete demolish his baseline game and become a serve-and-volleyer. Fischer ending all argument with a smug, "Trust me." Fischer refusing to console young Pete whenever he came off the court shattered by a loss and instead demanding to know only why Pete went with that backhand crosscourt at 4-4, 15-40. And, always, Fischer drilling into Sampras--even when he was a gangly, unmotivated teen taking loss after loss in junior tournaments--Remember: Your competition is Laver. Laver?
Twenty-two years ago Laver, the only male to march to two Grand Slams (in 1962 and '69), won his 47th and last title. Tonight, against 79th-ranked Marcelo Filippini, Sampras begins the quest for his 47th. Just five wins in Philadelphia, and after a decade of chasing, Sampras can finally grab hold of Laver's shirttail. Sampras serves first, and, as always, his movement is a lesson in classic tennis form: ball bounced once, left toe lifted, left arm sweeping up as easily and inevitably as the second hand on a clock. Ace down the T, 117 mph, unreadable, untouched.
Fifteen-love. Fischer taught him that. It's impossible to see in his play, but Sampras is something of a mess. He can't stop thinking about Fischer: always pushing, never satisfied, the only person whose approval Sampras still needs. Once or twice Sampras glances over at him; Fischer looks the other way. Understand: Early in his career the best quality Sampras possessed was the ability to do what he was told. He is devoted to his parents, but he still refers to "the way Pete raised me." "Listen: I didn't plan this," Sampras says. "Pete Fischer planned this for me." The first set is too easy. Sampras holds his serve while probing Filippini's for four games; then, after blasting three service winners and an ace to go up 5-4, he breaks Filippini with a series of punishing forehands, a patient rally from the baseline and, finally, a whipping forehand crosscourt winner.
Sampras isn't winded, and in the next set he is simply crushing. With his usual deadpan demeanor, he covers the court quickly and gracefully, fires 120-mph serves and produces a moment of beauty: Up 4-1, 0-30, he takes a ball at his ankles, skips sideways and blasts a forehand down the line; Filippini gets it, only to set Sampras up for an overhead smash.
Sampras ends the game with a backhand volley flipped lightly crosscourt, where Filippini isn't. It is, in short, a masterly display of all-court tennis, but Sampras knows better than to think that Fischer is satisfied. "I expect him to be perfect," Fischer says later with a laugh. "When he isn't, I know it, and he knows I know it." In 1989 Fischer traveled with the 18-year-old Sampras to the U.S. Open. The two separated a few weeks afterward because of a bitter dispute over Fischer's role and compensation, and they hardly spoke for more than three years.
After Sampras won his first Wimbledon, in 1993, Fischer finally buckled and called him. The relationship warmed, but Sampras wouldn't allow Fischer near his matches. Last year Fischer, in New York during the U.S. Open, asked Sampras for permission to come to one of his matches and watch. Sampras said no. "Just the fact that he'd be there would be a distraction," Sampras says. "Pete's so honest with me. Almost too honest."
The CoreStates Center is half empty. There are no TV cameras. Sampras's rivalry with Andre Agassi has sputtered, along with Agassi's game, but while fans might be losing interest in tennis, Sampras is anything but bored. "To the surprise of everyone who knew Pete as a junior, he's got an insatiable desire to win," says former No. 1 Jim Courier, who once had a strong rivalry with Sampras but has lost eight of their last 10 matches. "There are 18-year-olds around the world scrambling to get a piece of the pie, and they're good. If you don't watch your ass, they're going to take some of your pie. Pete's not giving away any of his."
The night after beating Filippini, Sampras disposes of Jonas Bjorkman. Then, over the weekend, he puts away Sjeng Schalken, Doug Flach and hungry, aggressive Patrick Rafter. The field is weak, and though Sampras loses two sets during the tournament, there's never cause for panic.
Between last November and early March, Sampras went on a roll that began with a win over No. 6 Boris Becker at the ATP World Championship in Hannover, Germany, and included a victory over No. 5 Thomas Muster in Melbourne in January. Sampras has won the last two Grand Slam titles--the 1996 U.S. Open and the '97 Australian. In the former he erased No. 3 Michael Chang in straight sets in the final to pass John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl on the alltime Grand Slam singles victory list and come within two titles of Laver and Bjorn Borg, who both have 11, and three of Roy Emerson, who holds the record.
Only the clay in Paris continues to bedevil him. If Sampras wins the French Open in June, his place as the best player of the Open era will be secure. "He's one of the great players of all time," says Borg, a six-time winner in Paris. "He has a very good chance to win a few more Grand Slam tournaments." Becker's praise is even less qualified. "I have played him on different surfaces, and I've experienced something I didn't experience with the likes of McEnroe or Lendl or even Borg," he said in Australia. "He's able to adapt on different surfaces in a way no one has done before. He's able to play very aggressive tennis even on a clay court or a slow hard court. And his tennis doesn't have any flaws. He's probably better than anybody who ever played the game."
But comparing Sampras with players who competed 30 or more years ago is tough. The difference in racket technology alone makes it nearly impossible; then there was the battle over professionalism that locked many greats out of Grand Slam events before the Open era began in 1968. In his prime, between the years he won his two Slams, Laver was barred from 21 Slam tournaments. But he believes that today the game is more competitive, if less refined, than ever.
And after naming fellow Aussies Emerson, Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall--as well as Pancho Gonzales, Borg, Connors and McEnroe--as the best he ever saw, Laver says Sampras "is in the same group. And they're not that far apart. His temperament in big matches is phenomenal. And the look of his game is magical." Not that the world has taken much notice.
Sampras plays superb tennis, a fast and powerful game in a whiz-bang age, yet he inspires no rush to the turnstiles. In Philadelphia he was the marquee name in what once had been a prestigious event, but attendance during the week was 20,000 less than it had been just two years earlier; crowds of 4,500 and less were the norm, and even the final didn't come close to drawing a capacity crowd of 8,300. During Sampras's match with Bjorkman, one group of fans was so loud and unaware of what was happening on the court that Sampras drilled a ball up into their section to get their attention. "They quieted down after that," he said later. The fact is, men's tennis is rightly perceived as Sampras and a vanilla universe of second-raters. The 29-year-old Becker nurses one injury after another, Agassi is in one of his periodic flameouts, and young turks such as Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Mark Philippoussis have yet to impose themselves. There's no more telling comment on the state of the game--and of Sampras's image--than Agassi's latest commercial for Nike.
The ad, made after Sampras's dramatic, vomit-marred quarterfinal win over Alex Corretja in the U.S. Open and released during the Australian Open, celebrates a player who has won one third as many Grand Slam titles as Sampras and hasn't won a major in two years. Sampras is a Nike client too, not to mention one of the few alltime greats playing in his prime in any sport. But he is oddly invisible. "People don't follow tennis with a tennis player's eye," Fischer says. "They look at persona. They look at dollars. It's not Pete's fault. It's everybody else's." It's a matter of style. A lot has changed since Sampras won his first pro tournament, in Philadelphia in 1990, an 18-year-old pocketing the $137,250 check and flying home scared that a blazing plane crash would stop him from spending his first real money.
Since then Sampras has won $26 million more and earned at least that much from endorsements. But he has always oozed the laid-back ease of a kid raised in the milds of suburban Los Angeles, and his apparent nonchalance is a quality fans and opponents can't quite figure out. During the Australian Open in January, other players complained repeatedly about the balls, the courts, the heat. Sampras expressed displeasure once and thereafter just gave his mocking half smile.
"He doesn't complain about anything," says fellow pro Richey Reneberg. "I'm on the players' council, and a couple of years ago there was all this talk about how there were too many tournaments. I asked Pete how he'd feel if he had more of an off-season. He said, 'I'm happy the way it is now.' That's how it always is with him. You ask, and he says, 'I don't care.'" Sampras says that a lot. It is his stock response to charges that he is boring, to the reality that every opponent is burning to take him down, to the fact that he has no rival to push him. "I just...I don't care," he says, holding up his hands as if releasing a pigeon. "I really don't." That is his public face too. When Sampras ambles into his press conference after having beaten Filippini, he wears a dirty gray sweatshirt and pants that seem to have been lifted from a high school gym class in 1977. He looks so relaxed that he might nod off.
He answers each question with a few sentences, in a polite monotone, as if he were reciting from a manual: Yes, he is disappointed by the small crowds. Yes, he'd like to win the French. "It's the only thing missing in my career," he says, as if speaking about a lost sock. Sampras doesn't say how oddly important the Filippini match became, nerve-racking mentor and all. When Fischer, on the East Coast for personal and professional reasons, asked Sampras if he could come to Philly, Sampras finally relented. This isn't the U.S. Open, he figured, I can handle it. But he doesn't tell the press about this, or about the guidelines he laid down: Fischer could give no advice, instruction or criticism unless asked. And, for god's sake, he was not allowed to mention the French. Sampras doesn't reveal that Fischer went into the locker room after the match and that the two had a conversation unlike any they'd had before. "Well, you got through it," Fischer blurted. But then they traded small talk, normal-people talk, with nothing said about greatness, Laver or Paris.
No, the press doesn't know a thing. The next night is the same. And the next and the next. Someone asks Sampras a question, and he shrugs. Someone asks him to sign some posters, and he sits down and scribbles his name over and over--a portrait of monotony. If you took only a quick glance at him, you wouldn't notice that under his hooded eyes Sampras is looking all over the room as he signs, listening to everything being said.
You would believe Sampras when someone asks him a question and he looks up, eyes wide, and says, "You're talking to a guy who just doesn't give a damn." On the day after Sampras beats Rafter in a thrilling three-set final in Philadelphia, 44-year-old Jimmy Connors stands in a country-club ballroom in Naples, Fla. Both his calves are bound in white tape, a bandage is on his right thigh, and his left wrist is wrapped; he looks a wreck. It is the first day of the season-ending championship tournament of the Nuveen Tour, for players 35 and over, and this is the opening press conference. Borg, Andres Gomez, Guillermo Vilas and Johan Kriek are there too.
Oldsters are tennis's growth industry, and Connors has made it happen: Feeding off the momentum of his run to the semifinals at the 1991 U.S. Open, Connors has carried the senior tour for four years, winning most of the events, filling seats. Every year has produced more tour stops, more interest. The world still can't get enough of Jimbo's flying circus. "It's what this same group of players did in the '70s and early '80s," Connors says after the Nuveen press conference. "We made tennis a big business for these young guys today, and we're doing that again."
These young guys today. They are a favorite target for Connors; he doesn't like their high-octane game, their monochromatic personalities, the fact that they're not...well, like him. It all began in 1991, when Connors put on one of the best and hokiest shows in tennis history at Flushing Meadows, raging around the court, pumping his arms, wiggling his butt--opening his chest, he said then, and showing the people his heart. He provided a startling contrast to young U.S. players like Sampras, Chang and Courier, who felt their job description began and ended with "play hard." With soaring TV ratings to boost his case, Connors flayed the younger men mercilessly. No one took a worse beating than Sampras, who, after being upset in the quarterfinals, called the pressure of defending his '90 Open title a "bag of bricks." Connors pounced. "What? Don't tell me that," he fumed. "That's the biggest crock of dump.
Being the U.S. Open champ is what I've lived for. If these guys are relieved at losing, something is wrong with the game...and wrong with them." Connors still uses the same rant to his advantage: His tour sells personalities, fun, contact with the fans. The new players? "It's more important to them to play the tennis," Connors says in Naples. "It is a big business. I'm a tennis player, don't bother me for anything else. But going back, it was important not only to play but to create excitement for the game any way you could." Connors never names names, but one young guy takes it personally. "See what Connors said?" someone asks Sampras the next morning, during a break in his workout at the Saddlebrook Resort in Tampa.
He has seen it, all right. Arthur Ashe once said Connors was "everyone's favorite a------," and Sampras now spits out the same sentiment--without the "favorite." It puzzles him. All his life Sampras was told to keep his emotions in check, never throw a racket, play like Laver, and he learned his lesson so well that, whenever he and his parents saw McEnroe on television in a frothy-mouthed tirade, Sampras was embarrassed.
Growing up, he heard how the world was sickened by tennis brats. He was raised to be the opposite, to erase his personality. His is the antimystique. "Half the time he looks dead, like he's not trying--that's one thing about his aura that's so hard to grasp," says Paul Annacone, Sampras's coach. "Watch him walk down the street. He's like this." Annacone hunches his back and drops his head. "He never looks like Superman." Which was fine for the year after Sampras won his first U.S. Open, and the 39-year-old Connors hadn't yet rocketed through Flushing Meadows.
But when Sampras won Wimbledon in 1993 and the British tabloids responded with snores, he began to suspect that someone had changed the rules on him. Even now he can't escape the feeling that his biggest opponent is not on the other side of the net. It's Jimbo and all those other colorful, maniacal egos of the '70s and '80s--McEnroe and Ilie Nastase and the late Vitas Gerulaitis--who still own the heart of the U.S. fan. "I shouldn't have to apologize for the way I am," Sampras says. "I walk into press conferences and people say, 'Pete, the sport's going down, racket sales are down, balls are going down, what do you think you should do?' Well, what do you think I'm going to do? Ever since I was eight, I've always wanted to just play and win. I could be a jerk and get a lot more publicity, but that's not who I am. "It baffled me at first. I didn't understand what I was doing wrong. But I'm not going to change for anybody. I think what I'm doing is fine. I really don't care. I don't."
He does. He cares so much that sometimes nothing--not the calm, balanced upbringing he got from his father, Sam, and his mother, Georgia; not the stern lessons on deportment drilled into him by Fischer for nine years; not the impassive facade he wears--can keep the caring contained. For someone who tries so hard to project insouciance, Sampras has provided tennis with some of its most emotional moments: Sampras crying on the court at the 1995 Australian Open for his dying coach, Tim Gullikson, and going on to win; Sampras collapsing with cramps at the '95 Davis Cup final in Russia and coming back to account for every point in a U.S. victory; the dehydrated Sampras throwing up in the fifth-set tiebreaker against Corretja last September, saving match point with a desperate volley, uncorking a second-serve ace at 7-7 and holding on to win. He is, in fact, so highly strung that at times his body simply can't take it. If anything, Sampras cares too much. This is nothing new.
When he was 13, he played what is believed to be the longest three-set match in juniors history, against T.J. Middleton in Kalamazoo, Mich., losing 18-16 in the third. Middleton lost his next match and was relegated, along with Sampras, to the consolation round. "Middleton defaulted because he couldn't move," Fischer says. "Pete played and won, but he noticed pain in his right wrist. We X-rayed it: He had won with a broken wrist. Can Pete be tough? Pete can be tough." Not that Sampras understands a bit of this. He has tried to figure out why his interior life often spills out before millions. "And I don't know what to think!" Sampras shouts. "As introverted as I am...in the arena, where I really want to be introverted, I open up. I don't know if everything builds up inside me and I'm overwhelmed by emotion, but these things show more than I want. I was embarrassed when I was carried off in Moscow. I was embarrassed in Australia. I've always had this shield in front of me that people couldn't get through. I thought I was pretty strong. Then I was embarrassed at the U.S. Open because people thought I planned the whole thing." That's right. There's a strain of thought in tennis that Sampras faked his condition against Corretja, that no one who said, "That's the worst I've ever felt on the tennis court," as Sampras later did, could have popped off supersonic serves.
At the 1996 French Open, Courier felt victimized by what he calls Sampras's "droopy-dog play." After falling behind 2-0 in sets in their quarterfinal match, a seemingly exhausted Sampras came back to beat Courier in five. As for the Corretja match, "that was an extremely gutsy effort," Courier says. "You can't fake throwing up. But if you're throwing up, how can you hit serves 120 miles an hour? That's a little contradictory. I don't know what to think." McEnroe does. "That was pretty tremendous acting," he says. "Very good. If you're that out of it, you don't serve 120 miles an hour. No one does that. He must know something I don't." Sampras insists he simply drank a soda during the match and paid for it.
As for Courier, Sampras says, "I think he's pissed that I beat him every time. I don't do any gamesmanship. I don't pretend I'm tired and all of a sudden have a burst of energy. I know Jim's said that. Sour grapes." There's an edge to his voice. Sampras cares about this because the topic is his tennis and the subtext is respect, and those are the only things worth worrying about. If Sampras were really the indifferent jock he pretends to be, he would be only a talented underachiever capable of astonishing moments; he would be Goran Ivanisevic.
But he is actually a dueling mix of drive and uninterest, and this combination may make him, before his career is done, the best ever. Why? Because he doesn't care about the things that make hell out of the lives of many tennis stars: sycophants, discos, celebrity, politics and cash. He didn't get tangled up in the usual tensions between tennis parents and management, because as soon as he turned pro, at 17, he told his father that his days as agent-scheduler-handler were over. "Pete fired him," Fischer says, and while this is only technically true--Sam, then a mechanical engineer with NASA, had neither the expertise nor the desire to run his son's ship long-term--it is a very cool boy who can tell his dad to step aside.
"There were too many cooks in the kitchen," Sampras says. "I told him he's better off when he's my father, not my agent. We get along much better when he's not involved in contracts and deals." Sampras doesn't sightsee. After eight years of globetrotting, he's no cosmopolitan. At heart he is still small-time. He is suspicious of anyone who doesn't, as he puts it, "know himself." He sees Courier, the product of small-town Florida, speaking Spanish and French in the locker room and finds it fraudulent. Sampras is simplicity: bowl of cereal, three hours of practice, round of golf, sleep. "He doesn't enjoy the things most other players enjoy," says Annacone. "He doesn't like to be pampered. He wants to be treated like me and you. He wants to go have a burger and watch the Sixers on TV. He doesn't want people to say yes-yes-yes. He's about substance, not about how well he can talk or how flamboyant he is. He's about what he can do when you put him in a competitive field with a tennis racket in his hand. That's what he wants."
That's all he's wanted since his father took him at age seven to meet Fischer at a racket club near their home in Palos Verdes, Calif. It took Fischer, the pediatrician, about 30 seconds to realize that Pete wasn't like other kids. "He walked different, he moved different," Fischer says. "Everything was smoother, more graceful, more coordinated. He had incredible accuracy. His good shots would go 18 inches inside the line, and his mishits would hit the line." Still, without Fischer, Sampras says, "I don't know what I would've done, I don't know what I would've been." Fischer farmed him out to Southern California tennis gurus--Robert Lansdorp for his forehand, Del Little for his footwork and Larry Easley for his volley. While other kids were stampeding to buy the latest tennis technology, Fischer insisted that Pete stay with a less forgiving wooden racket until he was 13, to help him develop perfect strokes. Even today his lead-weighted graphite is closer in character to Laver's lumber than to a high-powered wide-body; strung at 80 pounds, it has a sweet spot the size of a dime. And Sampras's serve, clocked at 120 mph even with a wooden racket, is as celebrated for its control as for its power.
Fischer may have delegated everything else, but he took full responsibility for teaching Pete how to serve. With no worry about racket-head speed, Fischer focused on deception: He would wait until Pete tossed the ball and only then yell where he wanted him to hit it. That's why nothing in Sampras's delivery gives his serve away, and that is the rock upon which his whole game stands. "Maybe the best serve I've ever seen," says McEnroe. After practice Pete would be shown grainy Super 8 films of the stone-faced Laver and Rosewall playing complete tennis.
The Australians didn't act like McEnroe or Connors or Becker; there was no ego, no look-at-me! in their games. Pete was taught: Only the sport matters. More: Winning Grand Slams matters most. This is, of course, a fallacy in our age. Connors knows better than anyone else that the tennis boom of the 1970s had less to do with great play than with outsized personalities; without that, the sport wouldn't have crossed over to the mainstream. For a long time Sampras didn't understand that, but he does now, and he feels like a man out of place, living in the wrong time. The understated Borg was never asked to carry the game or explain why he wasn't a spoiled terror. "I wish I was playing in the Connors-McEnroe-Borg era, when they had more personalities," Sampras says.
"They had the rivalries, and there are times I wish I was part of that. At other times I wish I was part of the Laver-Rosewall era, because image and society and media were different then. They just cared about the tennis." Sampras is rich. He has a great life, and he knows it. But he will also, if pressed, admit that his core beliefs have been challenged by the current age of image and spin. He believes in the past, but he came of age in the 1990s, and the fact that he knows, knows he possesses the most complete arsenal in tennis history doesn't help.
The sniping by Connors and others has left him with a small, hard nugget of insecurity, a feeling that outside tennis circles his achievements matter little. At a celebrity golf tournament last July he got shock after shock when, one by one, Michael Jordan, Dan Marino, John Elway and Mario Lemieux said hello. "I always looked at myself as if no one knew who I was," Sampras says. "And they...they knew." That nugget got hammered deep under his skin last fall when Sampras's own sneaker company, Nike, began filming that commercial with Agassi and offered Sampras a cameo. Sampras couldn't believe it.
He had watched Agassi's visibility skyrocket as his game declined. Meanwhile, Sampras had become the player of his era. A cameo? He took it as a slap and turned Nike down. It was as if his tennis didn't matter. Sampras interpreted Nike's attitude toward him as, to quote Agassi's parting line in the commercial, "Nice game. You suck." "It's about respect," Sampras says. "It said to me that Nike wasn't really sure what to do with me. I was disappointed." Recently Nike has made amends. This month Sampras began filming spots for a Nike campaign built around his passion for tennis. Even before that, however, he had perspective.
When he feels slighted, he thinks of Tim Gullikson's dying last May of brain cancer, and it hits him: He's gone. "To see someone die in front of you and to miss him.... Doing a Nike commercial isn't the most important thing in life," Sampras says. Or he sits in his living room and looks at the trophies lining the shelves. "Everything comes and goes," he says, waving a hand at the four U.S. Open, three Wimbledon and two Australian cups. "And those are what's going to be left." And when that's not enough, he has his car.
This is Sampras's one extravagance, a 1996 silver $80,000 Porsche 4S Carrera, the kind of machine that sounds like God humming. Sampras's house is no mansion, and he lives off sandwiches from Subway. But behind the wheel he indulges the big-timer impulse he squelches elsewhere. His ego is all over the road: Sampras drives the way Connors plays. He wears tiny black Ray-Bans. He doesn't steer so much as swagger: swerving onto the grass to make his own lane when there are too many cars ahead, drifting into the opposite lane and scaring the hell out of a school-bus driver. He looks right and swings left, and he's gone. Sampras pulls onto Country Road 581 outside Tampa, where he once pushed the Porsche to 135 mph, but today is different.
Today he's looming close behind a pickup, left wheels riding the yellow line like an ace down the T...waiting...now's his chance, he's out and cutting around the truck, passing the careful Previa and the banged-up Nissan in front of it, getting up to 90 in a 55 zone. Soon he will buy a faster, more powerful car, a turbo. But this one will do fine for now. This is ugly. It's 2:45 on a Florida afternoon and 87[degrees] in the shade--but Sampras isn't in the shade. He's pumping his legs high under a savage sun, running back and forth across a field. His tongue is out, sweat pours down his back. His breathing sounds like that of a horse on the homestretch. "Forty-five seconds," says Saddlebrook strength and conditioning coach Mike Nishihara. "Eight more of those." Sampras looks the way he looked at the end of his match with Corretja. "Eight?" he says.
Sampras is in the best shape of his life. Since October he has been working with Nishihara 60 to 90 minutes a day--after 90 to 150 minutes of rallying with Saddlebrook pro Jimmy Brown. Sampras needs this. Last year, he says, he hit the wall too many times, and he's determined that it not happen again. The long baseline rallies in Paris demand that he arrive primed, and his showing last year, when he reached the semifinals, told him he can win at Roland Garros. "I have to win the French to be considered the greatest ever," he says. "If I don't? It's a strike against me. But let's be realistic: I can win there." If he doesn't, Sampras says, it will be only because he is beaten, not because he runs out of steam. Sampras's illness against Corretja sparked speculation that he suffers from a form of anemia and that this malady had caused his breakdowns in long matches.
There was talk that he had checked into the Mayo Clinic for a complete physical. Sampras says he never did. There was no reason to. He says he and other members of his family suffer from thalassemia minor, a condition that can inhibit the blood's ability to carry oxygen and that is common to people of Mediterranean extraction, but it has never had any effect on the tennis court. His only concession to the disease is an extra steak or three a week. "It had nothing to do with what happened at the U.S. Open," Sampras says. He never got himself checked out after the tournament because, he says, "I knew what I had to do: Get my ass in shape. I know what happened. I didn't do any weights the last few years, I didn't do any bike. I wasn't in bad shape, but I wasn't in top shape. And I could get by." Early in his career, just getting by was fine with Sampras.
At the beginning of 1992 he was ranked sixth in the world and happy about it. Then he lost the U.S. Open final to Stefan Edberg and was stunned by how horrible that felt; for months afterward he found himself kicking off blankets, replaying points. Even today he upbraids himself for not having 10 major titles. Since then, with the guidance of Gullikson and now Annacone, Sampras has worked to plug every hole in his game: spotty ground strokes, a predictable backhand, halfhearted volleys and, now, conditioning. Pushed, especially by Agassi, two years ago, Sampras became smarter at working points, less dependent on his serve. He has added a dependable slice backhand and shored up his service return. He has no weaknesses. "That's the sign of a champion: Each year you fill another chink in the armor," says McEnroe. "He may not have as much ability as a couple of guys [in the past]--and I say only a couple--and he may not be as fit as others, but he has both. It's very rare. He has almost all the shots, and he's worked hard. He's capable of doing anything."
Except, in the biggest matches, losing. Sampras's 9-2 record in Grand Slam finals is the best of any great player in history. Nobody--not Bill Tilden, Don Budge, John Newcombe, Emerson, Laver, Borg, not even Connors or McEnroe--has a better winning percentage than Sampras when it matters most. Funny: When, at the Nuveen press conference, Connors tells why he most admires Gonzales, there is no talk of entertainment or showmanship. "He was a bad sonofabitch," Connors says. "He'd do anything, stand there for six hours, to win a match." Connors could well have been describing Sampras today. "I need to win," Sampras said after being upset by Sergi Bruguera in the semifinals of the Lipton Championships in March. "I didn't play the way I should, and when I lose now...it's worse than just losing. It's like a death."
He has come a long way from his "bag of bricks" days. Even Connors admits it. "What I like is that he's prepared to play day after day after day," Connors says. "I would like to see him have stiffer competition. He doesn't have Borg, Connors, McEnroe, Lendl--three, possibly four, of the greatest playing at the same time. But what I like about him is that he doesn't care who he plays. He still goes out and performs." Sampras, after the initial shock of hearing a compliment from Connors, agrees. He misses the Agassi of two years ago.
He feels Agassi gave him one of the best matches of his life, in the 1995 U.S. Open final, and he wants more. But if no one is going to push him, he's going to keep pushing himself. Sampras is 25, the age at which most modern players begin to fade, yet he is motivated and fresh. "I am in my prime right now," he says. "The story's not over. "I think about Pete [Fischer], and he was right about everything he said since I was 10 years old. Everything. Maybe we both were lucky, but I feel even stronger about winning the majors than I did before. Winning a Slam...you feel like you're making history. Pete had no idea what it was like, but I do, and he was right. It's not about money. It's about making history. I thought it all went in one ear and out the other, but now I know he was spot-on. "He keeps talking about the French. All you need is the French. And I say, 'Well, what about the other ones?' Another Wimbledon, another U.S. Open is what it's all about."
With seven Wimbledon Championships - 14 Grand Slam titles in all – Pete Sampras has the most outstanding record of any of the men's Champions. Although the records and statistics are the dry proof that Sampras was king in his time at the All England Club but sport is not just about numbers. What grips us, the lucky few who get to sit at the court side, is the passion, the fear, the blood, sweat and tears that separates the players from the champions and the champions from the truly great.
Passion? Sampras? Oh, my, yes. Sampras was never the most expressive or effusive of characters on court, but there was a fire in him that burned brightly and scorched all who came near it. His whole life was devoted to achieving greatness and then hanging on to it. For six years between 1993 and 1998 his every waking moment was consumed with the thought of winning and maintaining his position as world No. 1. He did it, too.
During that spell, he won five of his Wimbledon titles together with three US Open and two Australian Open trophies. But it was here at Wimbledon that he felt most at home. Here he was in his comfort zone, here he had a head start on any opposition. The mere fact of playing the great Sampras reduced all but the best to tatters and gave him a few points in the bag before the match had even begun.
Every year he would come to London from the French Open looking grim. He could never win in Paris and the fact hurt. But as soon as walked through the gates of the All England Club his spirits lifted and he became a different man. He won here when he was injured, he won when his form was at its lowest and he won when his critics had written him off. Put Pete on Centre Court and he was unstoppable. On one leg and in a blindfold and he was still unstoppable.
Then there were the occasions when Pete was in his pomp. The 1999 final against Andre Agassi was possibly the greatest display of grass court tennis that Wimbledon has ever seen. He had stumbled around the circuit for the first half of the year, winning nothing and looking miserable but then he went through that Lazarus moment as he returned to the grass. He won at Queen's and then began his campaign for The Championships.
Round by round he gathered momentum until he was ready for Agassi. His fellow American had just won the French Open, he was the story of the moment having hauled himself back from a ranking of 141 and reinvented himself as a champion. He was at his peak. And in the first set he had the temerity to manufacture three break points on the Sampras serve.
That was it. That was the moment Sampras moved from champion to genius. He snatched back the break points and then took off. For a couple of minutes Agassi shook his head and tried to work out what happened but by then the first set was gone and he was a break down in the second. It was not that Agassi was playing badly, it was just that Sampras was sublime.
"Today he walked on water," Agassi said later. Sampras said simply: "Sometimes I surprise myself." He ended on a second service ace - naturally.
He was back the next year for his last Championship victory at Wimbledon, beating Pat Rafter in an emotional rollercoaster of a Final. He came to London on the back of a serious back injury and not having won anything since March and again his chances were not great. He had even been beaten at Queen's two weeks before but still Wimbledon worked its magic on the man. And him on it. Even the tendinitis that had almost felled him in the early rounds was shaken off as Sampras wrote his own chapter in the history books.
It carried his tally of Grand Slams to 13, breaking Roy Emerson's record and establishing Sampras as one of the truly great figures of the game. That was one of the rare times he allowed the world to witness the pent up emotion that he had hidden for more than a decade. As the last point was played, he burst into tears and then raced off to embrace his parents seated high up in the stands.
In his last game before retiring, Sampras defeated Andre Agassi in the 2002 US Open final to total 14 Grand Slam titles in all.
Thursday, July 17
Sampras says he was misquoted
WIMBLEDON, England -- Pete Sampras walked down the stairway to the parking lot after practice Sunday, hoping to stick around Wimbledon for the two weeks of this year's tournament and beyond.
A day before opening defense of his fourth consecutive title on the grass courts where he's virtually unbeatable, Sampras said he planned to keep playing "as long as I'm still enjoying it."
Sampras smiled after practicing for an hour under sunny skies. He didn't seem upset over a newspaper report that he could "call it a career" if he wins Wimbledon this year for the record eighth time.
"Total misquote," he said of the report in the Sunday Telegraph of London. The newspaper attributed its story to an interview Sampras did with TNT commentator Jim Courier, himself once the world's top-ranked player.
Portions of the transcript of the interview provided by TNT to The Associated Press quoted Sampras as saying, "In a perfect scenario, you'd love to play your last match here and win it and call it a career. Who knows what's gonna happen in the future? We'll see."
The quote reported by the newspaper was, "In a perfect scenario, I'd love to play my last match here this year, win it and call it a career."
Efforts to reach officials at the Sunday Telegraph for comment were unsuccessful. The weekly paper, with a separate staff from the Daily Telegraph, was closed until Tuesday and contact numbers for editorial staff were unavailable.
The TNT interview was scheduled to be aired Monday morning before the top-seeded Sampras' first-round match against unseeded Francisco Clavet of Spain.
So how long will Sampras keep playing?
"It's like (Michael) Jordan finishing," he said, looking back over his shoulder as he reached the parking lot. "One day."
For now, the 29-year-old Sampras is focused on Monday, when he's likely to start a much better run than he had last month at the French Open. He lost in the second round in straight sets to unseeded Galo Blanco of Spain on clay, his fourth consecutive exit from Paris in the first or second round.
On Wimbledon's grass, he has one loss in his last 54 matches. That would be 60-1 if he wins the final July 8.
On Sunday, Sampras was back on the fast surface that suits his game, and his concentration was sharp.
During one stretch, he hit four of seven serves off the top of the net and back on his side.
"That tape has to be high," he said to his coach, Paul Annacone. "I guarantee it."
Then one more serve slapped against the white net cord and landed on his side.
"I bet it's three-quarters of an inch high," Sampras said.
When his workout was over, he walked to the net and measured its height with his racket, showing no emotion. Then he left the court.
"It was a little high. He can tell," Annacone said.
How much higher than it should have been?
"Probably about three-quarters of an inch," Annacone added.
08-16-2005, 11:03 PM
Thursday, July 17
Sampras hated grass courts at first
By Joe Lago
While growing up in Southern California, Pete Sampras learned to love the true bounces of hard courts. In fact, being weaned on them -- and possessing a powerful serve -- helped Sampras win the first of his record 13 Grand Slam titles at the 1990 U.S. Open at age 19.
"Everything," Sampras said of the fast, cement surface, "was perfect."
Of course, Sampras would learn to appreciate grass courts even more, particularly those at the All England Club.
Having won seven of the past eight Wimbledon singles titles, including four consecutive, Sampras has found a permanent place in his heart for the tournament he calls tennis' "Super Bowl." Still, it's somewhat remarkable that a skinny kid from Palos Verdes, Calif., would become one of the game's all-time, grass-court masters.
Barry MacKay, who gave a 17-year-old Sampras his first wild-card entry into a pro tournament in Northern California, has a logical explanation.
"When you think about it, the old fashioned California cement isn't that dissimilar from grass," said MacKay, a Wimbledon analyst for TNT. "It's fairly fast and the ball comes through pretty quickly, so a big serve like Pete's is rewarded. Even when Pete was growing up as a kid, it was faster then than today. It certainly helped that he grew up playing on that."
Sampras' first taste of grass courts was akin to a child's first sampling of spinach -- he hated it.
The first time he played Wimbledon in 1989, Sampras lost in the first round and suffered another one-and-done setback the following year. In 1991, he finally scored his first singles victory against Italy's Danilo Marcelino but got bounced by fellow American Derrick Rostagno in the second round.
"When I first came over here, the first three years, I didn't really enjoy grass," Sampras said Thursday on a teleconference call from England. "I thought it was a fast surface that was unfair. I kind of had a negative attitude towards the grass. I just didn't like the speed."
Sampras' coach, the late Tim Gullikson, decided to retool his prized pupil's game -- and attitude -- for Wimbledon. Gullikson shortened Sampras' strokes to compensate for the low bounce on grass. He also placed a bigger emphasis on service returns because, as Sampras pointed out, "that's how you win Wimbledon -- by returning serve well."
A new and improved Sampras returned to Wimbledon in 1992 and disposed of defending champion Michael Stich in the quarterfinals. He lost a tough, four-setter in the semifinals to eventual runner-up Goran Ivanisevic but came away with a new appreciation and zeal for sod.
Sampras would lose just once more in his next 54 matches at Wimbledon.
"Working with Tim definitely helped me to get over the hurdle of playing on grass," said Sampras, whose last singles loss at Wimbledon came against Richard Krajicek in the quarterfinals in 1996.
"I was nervous the first time I played there," he added. "Over the years, I've been out there so many times, it (Centre Court) is a comfortable court that I have grown to love. ... I feel like I'm at my court at home."
MacKay believes Sampras benefits from a homecourt advantage. By being the perennial top seed, Sampras has the luxury of playing his matches on the well-manicured lawn of Centre Court, which stays in better shape than the other courts over the tournament's two-week run.
"There's more running room there, too," said MacKay, who thinks the extra space allows Sampras to unleash one of his biggest weapons, the running cross-court forehand.
"You can do a lot of things there that you can't do on, say, Court 12, because of its size. Court 12 is like 60 by 100 feet. Centre Court is like 80 by 140 feet. That gives someone an advantage no matter who he's playing."
"I'm very comfortable with (its) speed. I'm comfortable with the surroundings. ... It's a comfort level that I don't have to think twice about," he said.
"I love the court because it's small, intimate and you get to see the people. You play in some of these stadiums around the world and you don't feel connected to the people. With Wimbledon, you feel a certain connection."