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Pete Sampras: Return of the king

November 16, 2008 – To reach Pete Sampras you take a flight to Los Angeles and drive north from the city towards the Santa Monica Mountains and this incredibly posh country club with huge iron gates where you submit your fingerprints and a swab of DNA before being directed to the lobby of the golf club where a secretary awaits.

“Mister Sampras hasn’t arrived yet, please take a seat.” It’s a long way to travel for an interview with a tennis player but one thought sustains you through the hassle and the tedium. This guy was extraordinary. Forget the seven Wimbledon titles, the five US Opens, the two Australian Opens and his seat in the pantheon with the greatest of all time. No, I’m talking about the stuff we never read about, the internal wiring of the man behind the mask.

Take his legendary modesty. The year is 1996 and Sampras has just boarded the first-class cabin on a flight from Los Angeles to Tampa when the baseball player Barry Bonds arrives and is shown the adjoining seat. Bonds glances at Sampras but does not recognise the world No1 tennis player. He is accompanied by a friend who has been allotted the seat behind. “If this kid gets out you can move here,” Bonds announces, glaring at Sampras. The “kid” moves without saying a word.

Take his fear of communal showers.

The year is 1991 and Sampras is in Paris preparing for the French Open on the manicured clay of Roland Garros. Training has ended for the day. He discards his sweat-stained kit, takes a towel and heads for the showers where – nom de dieu! — a French player is relieving himself on the tiles! Sampras is disgusted and traumatised. He changes quickly, returns to his hotel and avoids showering in changing rooms for the rest of his career.

Take his neurotic sleeping habits.

The year is 2001

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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