Sports of the Times - Getting the Results at the Mall
September 10, 1990
Soterios Sampras got the idea something good had happened when his wife ran out of the shop and kissed him.
Then they drove home and opened up two bottles of champagne to celebrate their son murderizing 20-year-old Andre Agassi, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to become the youngest Open champion in history.
They are a close family, but they are close from a respectful distance.
Agassi always seems to bustle about in the middle of a swarm of agents, managers, brothers, coaches, bodyguards, dietitians, trainers, weight advisers, racquet-holders, back-patters, hair stylists and attitude-adjusters.
Pete Sampras, on the other hand, is accompanied by the occasional abettor, but he breaks into a friendly grin when he hears the word ''entourage.''
''I'm 100 percent against having five or six people with me,'' Sampras said yesterday after the match. On Saturday, his parents had gone to the movies to see ''Presumed Innocent'' rather than watch their son beat up on an old chap of 31 named John McEnroe.
''I don't remember much about it,'' the father confessed late Saturday night. ''I didn't watch the whole thing. It was just something to do.''
That admission will surely make Harrison Ford feel wonderful, but the father has spent too much time fretting while his son swatted fuzzy tennis balls.
''Maybe I'm weak, maybe I'm a wimp,'' the elder Sampras said Saturday, ''but I'll tell you how I feel.
''The family devoted itself to Pete for a long time. My other kids suffered while we went to tournaments. There was a little animosity, but that's all over now.
''Last January, I decided that he didn't need his parents. He's his own man. He knows me, Pete. He knows I have three other kids here.''
John McEnroe still plays his major matches with his father and mother perched just a few feet away. Since McEnroe emerged as a yowling babe of 17, the McEnroes have celebrated his athletic success or stared blank-faced when Mac heaved his toys out of his playpen.
But Sam Sampras didn't budge from California even when his son outlasted Ivan Lendl in the quarterfinals.
The father described himself as a reformed tennis parent who ''spent 12 years with the kid, taking him to junior tournaments.''
The family used to live in Potomac, Md., where the father worked for the Defense Department and helped run the McLean Delicatessen in Virginia in his spare time.
Twelve years ago, the father came home and announced he wanted to spent more time with his family, so they were moving to California, where there was plenty of aviation work and also plenty of good tennis weather.
The father enlisted a series of coaches who are still praised and remembered. The family used to ride around in an old Volkswagen van, taking Pete to tournaments, but when the boy started playing on the professional tour, the father knew it was time to put the van in the garage and take up jogging.
''I went with him to four tournaments in Europe last year,'' the father said Saturday. ''Maybe I brought him bad luck, but he lost in the first round of all four. He doesn't need our moral support. He's an adult.'' The son behaved like a grownup at this Open and he also displayed a classic serve-and-volley game, without the twitches or baseline preoccupations of the recent generations.
''I've always looked up to Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall,'' Sampras said yesterday, referring to the Australian stars of the 60's.
''I worked with a coach named Del Little who had old tapes of Laver winning the 1971 and 1972 W.C.T. in Dallas,'' Sampras added. ''Laver could do it all.'' This identification with classic tennis players goes along with his taste in music. Pete Sampras prefers oldies-but-goodies like Cat Stevens and the Eagles to current technology-obsessed new-wave rock.
The two players have the same educational level: while many youths of 19 and 20 were working on a term paper or sending out for pizza or listening to the stereo or whatever else happens on Sunday afternoon in college, Agassi and Sampras were out working in their chosen field.
''What good is a high-school diploma in this country, anyway?'' Sampras asked recently. This single-mindedness of both Sampras and Agassi demonstrated why armies tend to want 19- and 20-year-olds jumping out of fox holes and charging the enemy position.
''They don't quite know what they're doing,'' McEnroe had said, not being disrespectful.
''You can't appreciate it until you get older,'' McEnroe said, revealing a little bit about why he has pushed himself back toward the top level.
Youth was served at this Open, Agassi by an entire entourage, Sampras by only a couple of factotums unrelated to him. But he had his serve, and he knew there were people who cared for him back home, and that was more than enough.