Articles Comments

Samprasfanz » Archives 2003 to 2011 » A Legendary Career Comes Full Circle

A Legendary Career Comes Full Circle

[August 25, 2003 CHRISTOPHER CLAREY, NY Times] He was never interested in a farewell tour, but Pete Sampras has agreed to a farewell ceremony, and when he walks just a touch self-consciously on court at Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight during the first night session of this year’s United States Open, he will complete the near-perfect circle of his career in the most appropriate place.

Pristine, restrained Wimbledon, which he won seven times, was the tournament that defined him, but the polychromatic and cacophonous United States Open was the event where he took his first and last star turns.

Sampras, 32, won his first Grand Slam singles title here in 1990 at the age of 19, sweeping aside the best of the old guard (Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe) and the best of the new wave (Andre Agassi). Twelve years later, as a married man about to become a father, he won his 14th and last Grand Slam title by beating Agassi in the final.

He has not played another match since, and after considerable soul-searching and a lot more golf practice than tennis practice, he has finally decided to make his retirement official.

“It was a rush, no doubt about it: waiting with Andre in the tunnel before a final in a major and then going out with the crowd going nuts,” Sampras said in a recent interview. “I’ll always miss those moments, but reality sets in and there comes a time when you let go of all that. You’ve done your thing.”

For Sampras, the biggest source of pride in his career was his consistency. He is the only player in the 30-year-history of the computer ranking to finish No. 1 for six consecutive years.

In all, he held the top spot for a record 286 weeks, earned a record $43,280,489 in prize money and won two more Grand Slam singles titles than any man in history.

Sampras considers those 14 major titles the highlight of his career. He puts his six straight years at No. 1 in second place. “That definitely takes its toll,” he said. “And being able to handle that – the pressure on and off the court – is just a reflection of my personality. I don’t get too down when I lose or too high when I win. It’s funny. I was talking to somebody and they told me that Barry Sanders’s dad used to tell Barry when he was young: ‘You run into the end zone and pretend like you’ve been here before and will do it again.’

“That kind of sums up my career. People always wanted me to show more excitement, but I felt like I’d been there before and I was going to be back there soon. When Barry went into the end zone, he didn’t do the whole touchdown dance, and I felt the same way after I won a tournament.”

Sampras said he believed the best tennis he ever played was against Agassi in the 1999 Wimbledon final, which he won in straight sets. “My best match at such a big moment,” he said.

He added some other moments on his short list of career highlights.

Leading the United States to victory over Russia in the 1995 Davis Cup final in Moscow on his least favorite surface (clay) by fighting through fatigue and cramps to win two singles matches. He also played brilliantly in doubles with Todd Martin.

Shrugging off a leg injury to break Roy Emerson’s career Grand Slam record (12 titles) in the twilight at Wimbledon in 2000 with his parents watching for the first time from the Center Court stands.

Putting an end to a more than two-year title drought and, as it turns out, his career by beating Agassi in last year’s United States Open final.

“Each major I’ve won I took something away from,” he said. “I’ve won majors by playing dominant tennis from the first match on. One year at Wimbledon, I lost my serve twice, and I’ve won majors where I haven’t played that well and just found a way to win.”

One of those was the 1996 United States Open, when he had to fight his way through a quarterfinal against Alex Corretja of Spain, vomiting on court between points during the decisive set. “The Corretja match kind of confused a lot of people, but I think I showed I wasn’t dogging it, for all the cynics out there,” he said.

Sampras said his most important loss was the 1992 United States Open final against Stefan Edberg.

“That really changed my career for the better,” he said. “I felt like I gave in that match

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

Leave a Reply