The Mechanics Behind a big Serve
September 10, 1990
Little had shelves of the old masters' films in his library at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club in Rolling Hills Estates, minutes from Sampras's house, where today, a family membership sells for $14,000.
''We watched Laver more than anyone,'' Fischer said yesterday, after watching Sampras's serve overwhelm Andre Agassi on television for the United States Open title. ''Laver had that kind of a smooth motion. A round motion where the shoulders are moving and the hips are moving and everything was going uptogether and coming down and exploding. Laver had to explode to get the power he did, and Pete certainly explodes.'' Fischer's knowledge as a physician helped to perfect the biomechanics of Sampras's serve.
''He looks like he's slamming a basketball,'' Fischer said. ''He gets a big rotation with his shoulders and hips at the same time. Instead of unrotating, he just goes straight up on the ball, so he gets all the power from big muscles. He doesn't use small muscles to hit the ball hard. He uses small muscles to guide the ball. He tosses way forward.
''One of the drills we had, he would toss the ball and I would call the serve. He could react that quickly, so that nobody is able to read his serve. He can kick, slice and go flat off the same motion, that's one of the reasons he got so many aces. One hundred and 22 miles an hour alone doesn't get you an ace. You have to be in the right spot at the right time.''
Many tennis experts believe Sampras is a throwback to the 1920's and 30's when Bill Tilden and Johnny Doeg and Ellsworth Vines were playing big serve-and-volley games. Vines, 79 years old, recently recovered from heart surgery and is on a kidney dialysis machine. He watched the match yesterday on television at his home in La Quinta, Calif.
''I think he's a great player,'' said Vines, a former national champion whose serve was clocked at 132 miles an hour and is considered, along with Pancho Gonzalez, as a standard of serving power.
''That's me out there. The same as I used to play. Serve and volley. He can only get better, but I don't know how much better. You can't handle his serve. I think his serve is incredible. That's what wins matches. I don't think he has a weakness.
''I was maybe an inch or two taller. I had long arms and long legs. I was skinnier. The surface is different now. Much faster. Racquet strength is better. But his serve-and-volley game brings back memories to me.''
Sampras's father, Soterios Sampras, praised Fischer's role, in his son's tennis development, calling him ''probably the smartest coach there is.''
''The first time I saw him hit,'' Fischer said, ''I knew it then. He was 7 and he was swinging as hard as he could and he was hitting lines and smiling. He loved to see what he could do with the ball and could always do things nobody else could.''
''He was a good kid,'' Fischer said. ''He was unbearable but no more unbearable than any other teen-ager. When I was first working on his one-handed backhand, I was supplying the ball and he would hit them over the fence if he got frustrated.''
The United States Open title for Sampras gave Fischer, who was born and raised in Yonkers, mixed emotions, since they parted ways before last year's Open. They tried briefly to patch up their differences this summer by trying to work out a formal agreement under which Fisher would be paid for his coaching, but the idea fell through.
''Up until maybe 1989, I made more money than Pete did,'' Fischer said. ''I've invested very well. But Pete couldn't see why I wanted money for something I'd done for free. I told him because that's what I'm worth. I don't need the money and you don't need the money, but that's what I'm worth. It's strictly pride. Coming from anybody else, it probably wouldn't have bothered him.''
Sampras, who is now coached by Joe Brandi, gave credit to Fischer in an interview with Mary Carillo on CBS directly after the match, saying ''I'm very goal-oriented, and my coach, Pete Fischer, who I was working with at the time, he really wanted to emphasize winning Grand Slams. I don't know if I would be here right now, if it wasn't for him.''
In the winter of 1989, Ivan Lendl said he wanted to work with young American players. Sampras went to the Connecticut home of the world's best player for some vigorous workouts, but Fischer said Lendl was less than impressed by Sampras's work ethic.
''Lendl told me he was in terrible shape,'' Fischer said. ''He told me he didn't want to grind it. Brian Gottfried asked him to write his goals down. But at that time, he didn't have any.''
Fischer said that he signed up the two of them for a Nautilus membership a few years ago and ''I got stronger and he didn't.''
Yesterday, Fischer picked up a $100 bet that confirmed all of his hopes and efforts. Nine years ago, he bet that Sampras would at least get to the semis of the United States Open by 1992.
''I could have had him hold the racquet by the strings and hit with the handle and he would have made good shots. He's just that natural.''
Fischer plans to call Sampras when he returns home. ''I got the chance to see my own dream come true,'' Fischer said. ''I could never play in Wimbledon. I couldn't get Pete's body on mine. But, maybe I could get my brain onto Pete's body.''