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For Sampras, it all began here

The tennis great, back for a WTT match, won his first pro title in Phila.

By Zach Berman, Philadelphia Inquirer

Jul. 20, 2007 – Pete Sampras drove by the stadium area on South Broad Street after arriving in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, saw the skyline in the distance, and was taken back in time.

Sampras won his first professional championship in Philadelphia in 1990. The win launched one of the most prolific tennis careers in history.

“This is when I went from a young guy ranked 40 to a guy ranked 12th in the world to a couple of months later winning the U.S. Open,” Sampras said. “This is a city that was my first time, and I’ll always remember that.”

He was back in Philadelphia with the Newport Beach Breakers for a World TeamTennis match last night. The Freedoms beat the visitors, 25-16, at Cabrini College in Radnor.

A sellout crowd of 2,500 watched Frederic Niemeyer defeat Sampras in men’s singles, 5-4, and team with Daniel Nestor to beat Sampras and Rick Leach, 5-2, in men’s doubles.

Sampras, who will turn 36 next month, is playing in his second season of WTT. He retired in 2003 and was inducted into the tennis Hall of Fame last weekend.

During his 15-year career, Sampras won a record 14 Grand Slam men’s singles titles. He was a model of consistency and remained stoic, never the showman like other tennis greats Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi. But after his retirement and remarkable career, the appreciation for Sampras is growing.

“I’m probably more appreciated the last couple of years than I was in my prime, but that’s probably longevity and people finally got a hold of it and saw there was something pretty special,” Sampras said.

Sampras said he has not changed – just his life has. He is married to actress Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, and has witnessed a different professional tennis landscape in his absence. There are few American stars, and as No. 1 Roger Federer draws closer to Sampras’ records, tennis fans are noticing exactly how impressive those records are.

The validation of his storied career came Saturday in Newport, R.I., when Sampras was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. During his induction speech, he displayed emotion seldom seen in his career. Sampras was brought to tears throughout the speech and drew applause each time.

Sampras said he was brought back to his days as a child playing tennis and junior competition. He realized exactly how much he had achieved in his career, beginning with that first win in Philadelphia.

“For the first time in many years – maybe my whole career – I appreciated what I was able to do,” Sampras said. “It hit me when I was there, when I saw my display, the history of the game, having my folks there. It was a pretty emotional couple of days. It hit me when I was speaking that it’s a big part of my life, tennis, and it always will be.”

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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