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Game Sampras

Game Sampras
By A Boston Globe Editorial, 8/27/2003

IT’S ALMOST impossible to visualize the game of professional tennis without Pete Sampras, and a lot of people won’t even try. Sampras defined the sport for the past decade, dominating it since 1990 when he won his first US Open at age 19 — the youngest male player to do so. He went on to take four more US Open titles as well as two Australian Open victories and seven Wimbledon trophies for a total of 14 grand slam championships, more than any other male singles player in the history of the game.

Such a giant lingers forever in the heart of the fan and looms over the swinging rackets of all players, top-ranked or rank amateur. Sampras, 32, may have called it a career Monday at the start of this year’s US Open, but his presence will be felt on the tour as powerfully as if his name were still in the draw.

Everybody with a huge serve will be measured against him — particularly the 20-year-old American player Andy Roddick, who is said to be “the next Pete,” though 21-year-old Roger Federer of Switzerland also became an heir apparent after winning Wimbledon.

None of the new guys has achieved the stats yet, however, nor the gravitas of the hulking Sampras taking the court. He often kept his face expressionless and slack-jawed, mouth open, so a viewer might worry about him swallowing bugs. Sometimes he seemed to be shambling back to the base line looking a little hang-dog after losing a point, the body language masking the power that was about to blast an opponent’s rising confidence back down into the fear zone.

He rarely appreared nervous on big points, dispatching them quickly and, it seemed, easily, without the grunts, groans, grimaces, or death grip on the racket often seen in other players. He was criticized for lacking a show-biz personality and for going about his business so matter-of-factly and with such consistency that his wins began to seem routine: He was ranked top in the world for a record six consecutive years, and he got there with none of the crowd-pleasing histrionics of a John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors.

He won games with pulled muscles, sore feet, and cramps. He battled nausea so fierce he vomited between points as he beat Alex Corretja of Spain in the quarterfinal of the 1996 US Open. He sobbed through a match in the 1995 Australian Open after learning that his coach, Tim Gullikson, was dying of cancer — and he won the match.

Standing in New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium Monday night, he let the rare public tears flow again and said he knew in his heart it was time to leave the game. It is the heart, after all, that ultimately makes a champion

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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