Just Call him St. Pete: Sampras wins fourth Wimbledon Championship
July 7, 1997
WIMBLEDON, England -- As Pete Sampras grows more fearless, his peers can't
help but grow more fearful that, for the near future at least, Sampras means
to keep the Grand Slam tournament titles to himself. They are the prizes
he most cherishes and fights most fervently to claim.
Sampras won his fourth Wimbledon title Sunday, dispatching Cedric Pioline
of France, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, in 95 minutes.
Sampras, 25, now has 10 Grand Slam tournament titles,two behind Roy Emerson's
record. With his focus narrowed almost solely to the four major events,
the resolute Sampras may claim that record by this time next year. Sampras
won the Australian Open in January and is the defending U.S. Open champion.
Asked after the match to survey the tennis scene and assess what in the
game he fears, Sampras frankly saw nothing. "I really have no fear
in the game," Sampras said. "I feel if I'm playing well, I'm tough
to beat. I've got some options out there. I can stay back or come in, and
to serve as well as I have these past couple of weeks, I'm going to be tough
to beat because when I'm confident and playing well, that's it for me."
That's it for everyone else. Sampras' serving fuels his confidence, drives
his game and sets in motion a relentless chain of events opponents find
overwhelming. As his serving improves, Sampras volleys better, and when
that happens he grows more relaxed. A loose and confident Sampras is highly
dangerous, as he has shown here.
From the first round to the semifinals, Sampras went 97 consecutive service
games without being broken. He held 116 of 118 service games during the
Sampras' serve Sunday was no less lethal. He lost only 17 points against
his serve and faced only one break point. It's not just about velocity.
Sampras was able to place his serve where he wanted to, and his 17 aces
would surely have been multiplied against a player with less ability to
Pioline gets the ball back over the net, and in earlier rounds he had
defeated two of the game's best servers: Greg Rusedski and Michael Stich.
But even above-average ability isn't good enough when Sampras fires as he
did during Sunday's match on cool and partly sunny Centre Court. "I
don't know what happened with my serve, to tell the truth," Sampras
said. "They just clicked in every match I had. It was the shot that
won me the tournament. This is the best I've ever served in my career."
Sampras' serves made the match seem more brutally one-sided than it was,
though really there was about all of the competitive suspense that a Wimbledon
final between the No. 1 and No. 44 players in the world might have suggested.
Unseeded Pioline had no chance.
"When you play Pete, he doesn't give you air -- you know, you cannot
breathe against him because he's serving so big and returning so good,"
Pioline said. "When he gets the break, he's serving even better because
he doesn't want to give you a chance to come back."
Pioline hurt his cause by losing his serve in the third game of the first
set. Sampras fired an ace to gain set point and, when Pioline sent a backhand
return long, Sampras had the first set in 36 minutes.
Pioline held serve to open the second set, then Sampras responded with
second-serve ace, ace, service winner, ace. Sampras broke in the fifth game
when Pioline dumped a forehand volley into the net. Pioline's volley was
not at the level he maintained against Stich in the semifinals, but Sampras
was passing well. Sampras was accurate from the baseline, committing only
eight unforced errors. Sampras broke again in the seventh game and held
to serve out the set.
Pioline played Sampras to his first two deuces in the second game of the
third set, but each time Sampras fired an ace to get out of trouble. He
broke in the third game and held to take a 3-1 lead. Pioline got his first
break point in the eighth game, aided by a rare double fault by Sampras.
Sampras held, as did Pioline in the next game. Fittingly, Sampras served
out the match, punctuating his victory with a service winner on championship
Sampras allowed himself a mild celebratory moment on court, and afterward
gave voice to his pride in his accomplishment.
"To have won 10 by the age of 25, I never really thought that would
happen," Sampras said, allowing himself to sound impressed. "This
is what's going to keep me in the game for a lot of years: the major tournaments.
I put so much pressure on myself to do well here and at the other majors.
It makes it all worth it, all the hard work I put into the game."
A coda to Sampras' comments: Emerson won his 12th Grand Slam tournament
title at 30 and during an era when three of the four majors were contested
How many would Sampras -- the best grasscourt player of is generation
-- have won if he had three times the opportunity?
Sampras Is Grand Again
American's fourth title at Wimbledon
July 7, 1997
Wimbledon, England -- It was a day for French impressionists, not French
Fluffy mashed-potato clouds floated over Centre Court yesterday afternoon,
playing hide-and- seek with the sun, providing beautiful and constantly
changing background scenery, begging for a Monet or Renoir.
But on the court, the art was American gothic, the work executed in flashing,
bold, realistic strokes, not little dibs and dabs.
Pete Sampras had his mojo working, his killer serve, and France's Cedric
Pioline might as well have been waving at Pistol Pete's pitches with a sourdough
Sampras won his fourth Wimbledon title in five years, and his 10th Grand
Slam tournament, with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 cruise over the gallant (he stayed
for the entire match) but grossly outclassed Pioline.
"There's something that just clicks on,'' Sampras said after his brisk
94-minute workout. "You're relaxed and my tennis just took over.''
Sounds easy, and it looked easier.
"I served and volleyed about as well as I've ever served and volleyed
in my career,'' he said. "I don't know what happened with the serves, to
tell you the truth. They just clicked for every match. It was the shot that
won me the tournament.''
Pioline, ranked No. 44 in the world, career winner of two minor tournaments,
and 0-7 lifetime against Sampras, figured to be a tomato can.
And he was, and you had to wonder how Sampras got so pumped up for this
one. Maybe he fantasized that the guy on the other side of the net was the
old Andre Agassi.
But Sampras now isn't mowing down opponents; he's clawing his way up the
stepladder of tennis history.
His fourth Wimbledon title moves him into a seven-man neighborhood, topped
by William Renshaw (1881-89) with nine Wimby wins. Sampras' 10th Grand Slammer
puts him in a five-man club, tied with Bill Tilden and two back of Roy Emerson.
The way Sampras blazed through Wimbledon, it's hard to imagine this is
the same guy who has been beaten in his past six tournaments, dating to
He has lost to people named Jonas Bjorkman, Magnus Larsson and Bohdan
But this is Grand Slam Sampras, who sets his alarm clock for the ones
that really count, and for these two weeks has been all but untouchable.
While some experts were trying to give Pioline a ghost of a chance, the
tea-sipping hipsters on Centre Court knew better than to expect a tennis
match to break out. The faintest glimmer came in the second game of the
third set, when Sampras double-faulted.
It was the first sign that he might be playing the same sport as Pioline.
Alas, moments later Sampras slashed the outside line of Pioline's service
box with an ace, slashed the inside line with another ace, and surgically
closed out the game with a service winner.
"Yes, he's playing very good,'' Pioline said, "but I mean, it's not
God doesn't double-fault. But if Pioline was unwilling to wax poetic about
Sampras, to place him among the all-time greats, at least Cedric was not
in complete denial.
"It's normal to be tight when you play that kind of match,'' Pioline
said, "and especially when you play Pete, because he doesn't give you air,
you know, you cannot breathe against him because he's serving big and he's
There's more to Sampras' game than the serve, and for sheer horsepower,
he doesn't have nearly the biggest boomer in tennis. In this tournament,
his first serve was usually around 127 mph, and that makes him no higher
than fifth in the octane ratings.
But his command of serve was way too much for the field. In his seven
Wimbledon matches Pistol Pete served 121 games and was broken twice. His
ace-to-double- fault ratio was phenomenal: 119 to 15.
Yesterday Sampras faced one break point, in the eighth game, after his
But three big serves and a couple slice volleys restored order, and the
only remaining suspense was whether the Duke and Duchess of Kent, said to
be splitsville, would appear together for the trophy presentation. (They
did, but weren't holding hands.)
Sampras smiled pleasantly for the royalty and the cameras when it was
over, but during the match he was as serious and relentless as a bricklayer
getting paid by the row.
No quirks or stalls or tricks from Pete. Before every first serve he takes
two balls, makes a millisecond comparison and dribbles the reject back to
the ballkid. Other players keep a spare for the second serve, but Sampras
When his game is in tune, the sheer methodical, emotion-free relentlessness
must be daunting to his opponents.
"Once the first point starts,'' Sampras said, "you just kind of get
into the mind-set and the routine that you've done this for so many years,
that it's all just muscle memory, and it just goes, and it's something that
just clicks on at a certain time.''
Sampras was blazing out of the starting blocks in just about every match
this tournament. Yesterday he won his first 11 service points and broke
Pioline in the third game of the first set, and a BBC announcer described
Pioline's countenance, with only a bit of exaggeration, as a "horrified
It wasn't just the Sampras serve.
"His touch shots are in good nick,'' the BBC announcer noted, and he
saluted Sampras' "brutal reply'' -- his return of serve.
In short, the whole package. A hunger to win the big ones, the nerve to
withstand the pressure, the killer instinct to hammer a lesser foe, and
No contest as Pioline is crushed by power of Sampras
July 7, 1997
THERE were plenty of things Pete Sampras could have said to Cedric Pioline
after blasting him away in straight sets in 94 minutes. He could have remarked
upon the theatrical qualities of the Centre Court, asked him how his family
was or offered him another set to pass a bit more time. The best and most
accurate thing he could have said, though, was: "Sorry. I hope you
get well soon," writes Paul Hayward
It was easy to understand why Sampras failed to throw himself to the ground
and scream at the heavens, as many Wimbledon winners do. That would have
implied that he was emotionally drained, or had come close to breaking sweat.
Even before the match it was hard to imagine a man called Cedric winning
anything grander than a regional tax inspector of the month award. After
it, you wanted to put your house on Sampras breaking Bjorn Borg's open-era
record of five Wimbledon singles titles.
At 25, Sampras has now won four Wimbledon championships and 10 Grand Slam
events. Three more and he will hold the record. Alarmingly for his ever-growing
list of frazzled victims, Sampras says he is only "halfway through"
his career. "Jimmy Connors was still winning majors when he was in
his early 30s," he said. "As long as I'm playing well, working
hard and staying healthy there's no reason why I can't play at this level
for many years."
We can forget about the Centre Court being a citadel of Englishness, with
floppy hats, Robinson's Barley Water and an artistically parched lawn. Its
other side is a vision of hell in which people fall into eternal flames.
After her defeat by Martina Hingis in the women's final, Jana Novotna seems
destined to be the recipient of such agonies. Sampras's victory over Pioline,
6-4, 6-2, 6-4, was as brutal as it was brilliant. They should have given
Pioline another go, on the grounds that he was clearly not ready first time
Pioline, whose wife, Mireille, made her first, and probably last, visit
to England to see her husband demolished, joins Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic
and Jim Courier in the list of Sampras's Wimbledon conquests. Pioline, or
what was left of him, did manage a lap of honour clutching a silver plate
that would have been better employed as body armour. His serve was broken
as early as the third game of the match. "From there I was running
after the score," he said, summoning an improvisational quality in
his speech that was mostly absent in his play.
In the year of the non-seeds, Pioline was the L'Etranger, the 100-1 outsider
who, at the end of a doubtless enjoyable and profitable fortnight, ran into
the whirlwind of Sampras's talent. Throughout the tournament Sampras dropped
his own serve only twice. He dropped a game in his first-round match against
Mikael Tillstrom and then went 96 service games before losing the second,
against Todd Woodbridge. The gap between him and the rest was so big it
was cruel. And cruelty never seemed so good.
It is wonderful that Sampras should be this superior. The Centre Court
crowd may feel it a pity that he had to be this superior on men's final
day, when the climax of the championship is supposed to throw up something
resembling a contest. It was the same last year, when Richard Krajicek charged
through MaliVai Washington in straight sets. No oohs and aahs in the nation's
sitting rooms, then. Just silence and wonderment and a resigned trudge back
to the weekend jobs.
In the first set it was Sampras's third service game before Pioline managed
a point against the serve. In set two, Pioline handed Sampras the first
of two breaks by mis-hitting four backhand volleys, one wide and three into
the net. The first two sets were won in 62 minutes. When Sampras made his
first bad mistake, he walked off the court and changed his racket. Only
broken machinery was capable of lowering his standards.
If it sounds, also, as if Pioline was inept, none of us non-combatants
can comprehend what it is must be like to face Sampras's endlessly scorching
serves, his ferocious returns to an opponent rushing optimistically into
the net. And on the Centre Court, with millions of people watching. Getting
to one of his first serves is quite an accomplishment. Getting it back over
the net should carry some sort of United Nations award.
The purists will remember it as an unusually important weekend, both for
the emergence of Hingis as champion at 16 years of age and what it said
- or confirmed - about Sampras. His body and will were in perfect harmony.
It was a marvel to watch his feet plant themselves, his head remain still,
the kinetic energy of his body load itself for transmission down the metal
wand of his racket. This was not a match. It was an exhibition.
"This is what it's all about. The major titles," said Sampras
later. "This is what's going to keep me in the game for a lot of years.
The only match I struggled in was the one against [Petr] Korda. I lost my
serve only twice and I served and volleyed as well as I have in my career.
I'm really pumped."
Inevitably the subject of Sampras's sober on-court demeanour raised itself.
It always does. He said: "I know I'm not Dave Letterman when it comes
to interviews, but the way I am on court is the way I've been my whole life,
and it's the way I'll continue to be - very much to myself, a lot like Borg
was. Concentrating and focused.
"I don't plan on changing for anybody, because it's who I am."
Top-seeded Sampras breezes through final
July 7, 1997
WIMBLEDON, England - History is Pete Sampras' only competitor. Four Wimbledons.
Ten Grand Slams. Virtually no one in the way of more to come. His rivals
these days are all retired - Bjorn Borg, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson.
Cedric Pioline, chasing aces and groping after groundstrokes, certainly
could do nothing Sunday to stop Sampras as he put the finishing touch on
a tournament he dominated like no other in his sterling career.
It wasn't just the score, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, or the time, a mere minutes,
or even the ace count, 17, against Pioline that distinguished this Wimbledon
from all of Sampras' other major championships.
It was the way he put together the whole package of his skills - the serve
that was broken only twice in 118 games over two weeks, the backhand returns
that dispirited Pioline and everyone else, and the speed with which Sampras
raced to the net.
"I don't know what happened with the serves, to tell you the truth,''
Sampras said of his amazing consistency from first match to final. "They
just clicked for every match I played. It was the shot that won me the tournament.
"In order to win here, you need to return, and that was also a great
shot. I was hitting and passing quite well. But this is the best I think
I've ever served in my career.''
Sampras, getting better with age at 25, is changing one of the basic elements
of tennis. He's so quick to the net with his big strides that he no longer
hits approach shots, even when he's receiving. As he did so many times against
Pioline, Sampras crushes returns with his backhand, gets to the net, and
waits to slap away volleys - if the ball comes back.
In a final devoid of drama, or even the comic relief of a streaker like
last year, Sampras broke Pioline early in each set. After a typically brutal
backhand return that flew past Pioline for a break to 2-1, Sampras fairly
skipped off court with long, loping strides like a big kid in the playground.
This is where Sampras shows his personality, and if it is muted compared
to the likes of Andre Agassi or John McEnroe, he couldn't care less.
"I know I'm not Dave Letterman when it comes to interviews,'' Sampras
said. "But the way I am on the court is the way I've been my whole life,
and it's the way I'll continue to be. Very much to myself and a lot like
Borg was. "That's why when Andre and I were competing, he was the one who
had the emotion. And McEnroe was Borg's rival. That's what the game needs
right now. But I don't plan on changing for anybody because that's who I
He held serve at love three times in the first set, and yielded a total
of only four points in his two other service games that set. In the second
set, he went one better, dropping just three points on serve. The only time
Sampras found himself even close to trouble was in the third set, when he
double-faulted and faced his only break point of the match in the eighth
game. He quickly snuffed out that threat with two service winners and a
volley that gave him a 5-3 lead.
Pioline staved off defeat for a few moments with the help of his 13th
ace. Sampras then put him out of his misery with a service winner on match
point that he celebrated by raising his hands and placing his fist on his
heart as he faced his new girlfriend, actress Kimberly Williams.
Pioline, the first Frenchman in the Wimbledon final since Yvon Petra won
in 1946, played well enough to beat almost anyone, or at least give them
a good match. Against Sampras, who has now beaten him in all eight of their
meetings, including the 1993 U.S. Open final, Pioline was simply outclassed.
"He's playing very good, but he's not God,'' said Pioline. True enough,
no mortal could have served better.
Sampras is as much a student of tennis history as he is a maker of it.
He knows his place among the game's greats, and what he must do to be considered
His 10 major titles tied him with Bill Tilden for the most by an American,
and he trails only Borg and Laver (11 each) and Emerson (12). The one gap
in Sampras' trophy chest is the French Open, and he would dearly love to
fill that. But even if some would refuse to call him the best because of
his lack of success on clay, he's building a good case for that claim with
all his other triumphs.
"To have won 10 by the age of 25, I never really thought that would happen,''
said Sampras, who captured the Australian Open title in January. "This
is what's going to keep me in the game, I hope, for a lot of years - the
Winning his 10th major boosted Sampras' hopes of adding No. 11 at the
U.S. Open in two months and closing in on the record.
"It just makes me feel that 12 is something that's so much more realistic,
that I can break the record. So to be put into the same sentence as a Laver
and those guys ... you can't have a more flattering comparison. This is
what's important to me.''
Sampras matched the Wimbledon total of Laver, his childhood hero, and
only Borg's five straight (1976-80) is better in the modern era. The Wimbledon
record is seven titles by William Renshaw in the 1880s.
"I don't like thinking of myself in terms of history,'' said Sampras,
who won $697,000 to hike his career earnings to $27.1 million. "I feel
like I'm still in the middle of my career and it's not over yet.''
What's most important, he said, is his longevity in the game.
"I'm going to keep on playing until there comes a day where I feel like
I'm not going to be in contention for slams,'' he said. "That will be the
day that I'll stop. I have a lot of respect for what Boris (Becker) did,
but I am nowhere near that day.''
Copyright © 1997 The Seattle Times Company
Wimbledon commentary: Sampras might be best ever
July 7, 1997
WIMBLEDON, England - Quick, somebody, get the man a rival. A foil. An enemy.
A villain. Get him a Wilt Chamberlain for his Bill Russell, a Pharaoh to
his Moses, a Lex Luthor to his Superman. Otherwise, Pete Sampras, the greatest
tennis player we have ever seen, might skip over our horizon without anyone
realizing what a remarkable talent he is.
He won his fourth Wimbledon title yesterday, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, in less time
than it takes to play the first half of a football game. Straight sets.
Never surrendered his serve. The reaction at Centre Court? I think I caught
the Duke of Kent nodding off.
Four Wimbledons puts Sampras, 25, ahead of John McEnroe, Boris Becker
and John Newcombe, and if you add those jewels to his four U.S. Open and
two Australian Open crowns . . . well, let's cut to the chase: Three more
Grand Slam titles, and Sampras will rank, trophy-wise, as the best there
The best there ever was. Read that again. The best there ever was. I'm
repeating it because they don't say that about too many people. Yet when
they say it about Sampras, it seems to drip off his back like water off
a British umbrella.
"He leaves you no air to breathe," said the man he vanquished
yesterday, Cedric Pioline of France, who had as much chance of victory as
he did of turning a croissant into a tuna.
(Besides, and I don't mean to digress here, but it's pretty hard to get
behind a guy named Cedric. Hearing fans yell, "You da man, Cedric!"
just didn't cut it.)
But back to his comment about Sampras. He leaves you no air to breathe.
That's pretty impressive coming from an opponent, no? So why did so many
fans leave Wimbledon with an empty feeling, as if they'd run out of cream
before they'd run out of strawberries?
Well, consider the drama of the match. You want me to skip to the highlight?
I mean the real heart-thumping moment? Here it is. Third set. Break point
for Pioline. That's to break one game of Sampras' serve. Not to win the
match. Not to win a set. Just to break his serve.
And it didn't happen. Sampras - who later confessed to a momentary lapse
in concentration (perhaps he was trying to remember whom he was playing)
- stormed back with two service winners and an easy volley winner.
Let's face it, Sampras had a run for the ages at this Wimbledon. He blistered
everyone he played. He lost only two games on his serve, and more than half
of his serves never got returned. And people shrugged it off?
This proves Sampras needs a regular enemy, if only to give a measuring
stick for his excellence. Jimmy Connors had Bjorn Borg, and Borg had McEnroe.
Ali had Frazier, the Lakers had the Celtics. But for his four Wimbledon
titles, Sampras has beaten four different players.
"In the United States, you do need a rivalry," he said. "When
you have one, people who don't follow tennis will follow it. Two times in
my career, I thought I had some real rivalries kicking up. Once against
Boris, and once against (Andre) Agassi.
"But it's so difficult in the 1990s. There are so many great players,
and the game is so much deeper. It's hard to have the same people coming
through all the time."
But if Sampras can do it, why can't someone else? Becker and Stefan Edberg
met in three straight Wimbledon finals from 1988-90. McEnroe, Borg and Connors
- in some combination - met five times in six years for the title from 1977-82.
And you remember those guys more. It isn't - as some critics say - Sampras'
deadly serious personality. It isn't that he fails to throw tantrums or
that, as he said, "I'm not David Letterman during interviews."
Hey, Borg was as boring as they come. But he had McEnroe to contrast him.
Edberg was as stoic as grass, but Becker's emotion helped shade him.
"That's why when Andre and I are competing, it works," Sampras
said. "He's the flamboyant, emotional one, and I can be me."
Of course, Agassi - who has met Sampras three times in Grand Slam finals,
by far the closest contemporary Sampras has had - bagged out of Wimbledon
again this year. He's either too hurt, too distracted, too in love or too
nuts to be consistent. It's not Sampras' fault that history gave him a head
case for a challenger.
"Do you ever see yourself changing the way you are on the court?"
a Brit asked him. "You know, playing with more emotion yourself?"
"Well," Sampras said, "my way has worked so far."
Say that again. Sampras is not only a model of laser-like focus, he's
fluid in all strokes.
It wasn't just serving that won him Wimbledon. He hit passing shots that
kicked up chalk on the baseline, and he came to the net brilliantly. On
one memorable play yesterday, Pioline had Sampras running and smacked a
forehand down the line. Sampras had no business getting to it, but he lunged
- pure instinct - and the ball shot almost horizontally across the court
for a winner.
"Sometimes," Sampras said of that play, "your muscle memory
Muscle memory? You mean his body does that on its own? No wonder Becker
quit Wimbledon for good after losing to Sampras in the quarterfinals, saying
he could no longer compete with the likes of Sampras.
Given the way Sampras is going, the shock isn't that Becker retired, but
that more players didn't.
Oh well, as they say in England, there you have it. Thus ends another
Wimbledon fortnight, one in which familiar patterns repeated: It rained,
players whined, and it all managed to finish on time, as usual, with yet
another teenage sensation capturing the women's title - Martina Hingis -
and Sampras going home with the big trophy once more.
The only thing lacking is what I've been suggesting, a rival for Sampras,
because he truly is as wonderful a player as there has been. Strong, fast,
resilient, intense. In fact, it is only because he is as great as he is,
and we need to do whatever it takes to show it, that I would even dare ask
the following question:
Does Dennis Rodman play tennis?