Passion for Pete Sampras
Introduction: I joined SamprasFanz before the turn of the century, which sounds pretty impressive if you forget that it was 1999. Anyway, here’s an edit of my first post. Basically, it’s my memory of the first time I saw Pete on TV, which may not be entirely accurate. It also covers my first ‘in person’ match, why I joined the Fanz, what I dig about the group, and why Pete’s the greatest.
I’ve been reading all of your posts for a while, and I thought I'd share with the group the first time I watched Pete play on TV. The details may be a little off, but the impression is still very much with me.
It seems like it was the early rounds of 89 US Open and here was this skinny kid running down and getting to every single ball with all kinds of speed and agility. I have this image in my head: I'm laying down sleepily watching a tennis match, and all of a sudden I have to sit up and pay close attention to the grace and tenacity before me. Seems like this teenager had some pop in his serve, too. Next thing I know it's a year later and Pistol Pete wins the 90 US Open. Since then, I've only seen Pete play once in person. I spent a year in Lyon, France and picked up some tickets to Le Grand Prix de Tennis de Lyon in 1993. I was pumped: Pete was playing Pioline, a Frenchman ranked 9 or 11 in the world at the time, in the final. What was extra cool was that Pete had won the tournament the prior two years and the sponsors had set up the prize such that if you won three years in a row, you got to keep the trophy 'd'une valeur inestimable,' the priceless trophy!
Pete won, and the crowd cheered for him. All through the match more people were shouting more forcefully Allez Pete! (Go Pete!) than were shouting Allez Pioline! I was already a fan before I got to France, but one of the things I loved there was that you could watch even the minor tournaments on Eurosport basically whenever they were on. Back then I pretty much just followed the Grand Slams, and that was it. Now, I follow whatever I can, and SamprasFanz is a great source for finding absolutely everything. You don't have to scour the web for stories, just open your email. If there's an article to be read, just read it.
I'm a fan and that's why I joined the group. But I work hard to keep my analysis of his game as objective as possible:
Not the fastest first serve, but the most solid and deceptive. Most dependable second serve. Unbelievable touch on the volleys. And what's his signature anyway, the running forehand crosscourt just-try-to-run-it-down winner or that mercury rising overhead smash?
Despite John McEnroe's continual 'surprise' when Pete meets Andre in a final and starts blistering laser-like groundstrokes, I really don't see much lacking in that department, either. In fact he probably owes some felt to a few fuzzless balls, and some white paint to a few faded courts after most of his tournaments (the French notwithstanding, though just wait till he cinches that one up in his sack and carries it 'cross the Channel to the All England Club.) And let's not overlook the the other two essentials: heart and mental toughness, guts and steel. (I'd say mental fortitude, but it's just not tough enough.) His heart's in it, converting to the one-handed backhand at 12 years old, 6 years at the top, that goofy grin he had during the entire Dennis Miller Live show.
As for mind over matter, consider an article from an English paper about Pete mentally imposing his will on a match, figuratively playing on both sides of the net. I still can't shoo that frightening prospect out of my head. Can you imagine ? You're trying to stare your opponent down and he pops up next to you and says I'm number one and you can bite me. The next thing you know your name is Tim Henman and despite your game, and all of the All England Club, nay the whole of England cheering you on, you've just dropped another match to your best friend on the tour.
And through it all, Pete's just as modest as can be: "One day Tim will win this tournament and I just got the breaks today. Yeah, there's an advantage to being number one, but it takes a lot of good fortune to winning a major." That's what Pete's saying, but it's as if all the other players are hearing, "Go home. You can't have what's mine. Not any. No. Go back to Vegas and make some TV commercials. Maybe you'll win in one of those, but not here, not against me, not on my watch, nor in my prime."
What I love the most about SamprasFanz is that everyone already knows how great Pete is. You all help me to feel like the world can be a rational place that appreciates greatness. It's a comfortable feeling, like being home.
It's cool, too, the diversity of his appeal, that 'home' can be Down Unda, on the Continent, across the Continental Divide and all of the Americas and more. Actually, it's something that speaks to Pete's mastery of the game. His popularity crosses borders so easily, as evidenced by the membership of this group.
While I was in Lyon watching some tourney that took place between the Australian Open and Roland Garros, I had the good fortune to have a wonderful conversation with a retired teacher who, without any leading questions whatsoever, described for me the beauty of Pete's game. I was surprised. We were in France after all, where it's all together too easy to blame every American you meet for what McDonald's does to your bowels, not to mention your culture or your national identity. And yet he appreciated Pete’s artistry at least as much I did. And let’s not forget all of the fans rooting for Pete against Pioline. What wigs me out, though, is that Pete's popularity crosses borders but somehow slips through the cracks in America; the casual tennis observer in the US at least as often as not still thinks Andre Agassi is the man. But that's all right because Pete's starting to get his due, and we're all at the forefront.
You realize that when Pete takes his well earned retirement we'll all take a cue from a similarly named movie and begin Searching for Pete Sampras. Who will follow in his footsteps, who will better him, who will make us the old fogies who argue that Ted Williams was a better hitter than Tony Gwynn, That Pele was better than two Maradonas and a Ronaldo rolled into one, that Ali was a better boxer than Tyson, that Mickey was a better mouse than Scratchy. I for one started taping his matches sometime after the 95 Open, figuring to show them to my children just in case the 'next Pete Sampras' doesn't show for a while. Heck, I watch them now. Because Pete's so great. He's so great.