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Sampras Is Inching Closer to Announcing Retirement

[August 20, 2003 by MICHAEL ARKUSH] Pete Sampras has not played in a tournament for almost a year, since his stirring triumph over Andre Agassi in the 2002 United States Open final. Now, people with knowledge of Sampras’s plans say that there is a strong likelihood he will announce his retirement within days, and that there is a good possibility there will be a ceremony honoring him on Monday night at the United States Open.

The announcement would not come as a tremendous surprise. All year, Sampras, who turned 32 this month, dropped out of one tournament after another, including Wimbledon, because he lacked the desire and the motivation to put in the necessary work. While he continued to leave the door slightly open on the possibility of playing again, speculation began to grow that his career was over.

How Sampras will make it official, if he follows through on the mounting speculation, remains to be seen. A Monday night ceremony would take place during the first full day of competition at the Open, but no details were known yesterday.

Sampras has been enjoying his new life in Beverly Hills, Calif., with his wife, Bridgette Wilson, and their son, Christian, who was born in November. Sampras has also spent time on his golf game.

Sampras, winner of a record 14 Grand Slam singles titles, had gone two years without a tournament victory when he arrived at the Open in 2002. In each of the previous two Opens, he had lost in straight sets in the final to much younger players: Marat Safin of Russia and Lleyton Hewitt of Australia. Last year at Wimbledon, he lost to the unheralded George Bastl in the second round. The second round. It certainly seemed that the best of Pete Sampras was in the past.

A few months later in New York, he had a chance for one more moment in the spotlight at the United States Open. After recording two easy victories, Sampras – who captured the first of his five Open titles in 1990 when he upset Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Agassi – got past the hard-serving Greg Rusedski in five sets. He then outdueled Tommy Haas to reach the quarterfinals, where he was matched against 20-year-old Andy Roddick in a much-anticipated battle of generations.

It was no battle at all. Sampras won in three sets and coasted again in the semifinals against Sjeng Schalken, setting up another match everybody was dreaming about: Sampras versus Agassi for the United States Open crown. Sampras won, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, capping what many consider the greatest tennis career. It certainly seemed to be the perfect time to leave the game.

Fans, perhaps more accustomed to the emotions of McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, did not warm up to Sampras and his game in his early years. Some considered him boring, almost robotic, with an unstoppable serve-and-volley game. But as the seasons progressed, all he did was win, including seven Wimbledon titles in an eight-year stretch. When he captured the title in 2000, he broke a tie with Roy Emerson for the most Grand Slam singles titles in tennis history.

When he began to struggle in recent years, however, he seemed to win over more fans. He was vulnerable, human, and they appreciated him and wanted to see him come back. Sampras worked hard, believing he could make that happen. At last year’s Open, he did.

He will be forever linked with his great rival Agassi, who is seeded No. 1 for this year’s Open. In their 34 matchups, Sampras won 20 times.

The only omission from the Sampras resume? is a French Open championship. He never advanced beyond the semifinals at Roland Garros. But Sampras does not seem to be the type to be haunted by this failure. He is the type to move on, which, it seems, he is about to do.

Filed under: Archives 2003 to 2011

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