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Wounded Warrior Pete Sampras Finds Path to Victory

July 1, 2000

On a day when past and present great champions had congregated on Centre Court to be honoured by standing ovations as they walked to the Royal box to be acknowledged for their achievements at Wimbledon in what was called a Millennium Celebration. Among the many players that attended this celebration were living legends, like, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Billie Jean King.

Unfortunately, one living legend who is still playing and still aiming for even higher legendary status, Pete Sampras couldn't be at the ceremony as he was receiving treatment on a leg injury prior to going out on court to face a 3rd round match against Justin Gimelstob.

His performance during that match could have been seen as an embarrassment to this great player as he was watched by many of his childhood heroes.

"I looked up and saw Borg and the Rocket," Sampras laughed, referring to Laver, "I wasn't proud of what they were watching."

Many a spectator and commentator had been curious to know whether Sampras had been motivated by those legendary spectators, but he added "No, no. At one point I wanted to throw my racket up there so they could play for me."

Although Pete Sampras struggled in this match, he proved that the greatest of champions, and that is what Pete Sampras is, a great champion always find a way to battle through and find a way to win. Whether they are in pain or feeling sick, and in some way they play an even better game because of these ailments!

This is partly what makes players such as Sampras such great players.

Pete Sampras, prior to this match had not been able to pick up a racket, had not been able to do his usual practice routines or work out, anything but keep his lower left leg on ice and try to keep his mind and plans intact.

Lately it seems that there is always some form of an obstacle in Pete Sampras's way, be it a herniated disc, stomach flu, a torn hip flexor, and now in this Wimbledon where he was on the edge of setting a historic record, a strained tendon in his left shin. Yet he is still in the tournament, and still finding his way to victory!

"Do you ever remember him losing injured?" asked Justin Gimelstob. Well not on Saturday, not against Gimelstob, even though Pete Sampras trying for a 7th Wimbledon Championship title, during the first set looked terrible.

Sampras reflected by commenting, "My racket, felt like a foreign object, which doesn't happen that often." "It's not an easy surface to play on when you haven't picked up a racket for two and half days. Yesterday, I was praying for some rain and got it, which was nice. But my leg's sore, and it will probably continue to be sore. I just need to find a way to play on it."

"I was so rusty, I had no rhythm on my serve, it was probably one of worst sets I played out there"

Pete Sampras had been taken to hospital for an MRI after hurting his leg in his 2nd round match on Wednesday night, in the style of a true champion, the wounded warrior that was Pete Sampras fought his way back from that first set deficit and found the rhythm on his serve in the 2nd set, serving four aces and three service winners in holding his opening 2 service games of that set to love. As though turning a switch the adrenaline kicked in and he stopped feeling conscious of the injury and began to run around the court at full speed and hitting passing shots with perfect accuracy. At that point there wasn't a doubt of who would be the player standing victorious at the end of the match and Sampras claimed that victory over fellow compatriot, American Justin Gimelstob, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Justin Gimelstob is a smart guy, who achieved a 4.0 average the one year he attended UCLA '95-96', and is still young at the tender age of 23. He is also very eager to show his admiration and respect for Sampras' talent and achievements in the game.

This is an era in the tennis game were the big hitters mainly dominate, and there are few on the circuit that can even match up to the serving strength and devastating precision of Pete Sampras.

Gimelstob paid respect to this fact by saying, "Well, probably when Pete came out of his mother's womb, God spent a little extra time on his right shoulder, just kind of touched it. So that helps!"

"He's the best athlete on tour," Gimelstob added, "in terms of jumping and running and the intangibles. He puts a lot of pressure on you athletically."

Of course there is more to playing tennis than just possessing great athleticism and ability. A big factor is mental toughness, and resiliency. "You have got to play with pain sometimes," Sampras admitted.

Playing with pain is exactly what Pete Sampras did in the 3rd round match against Justin Gimelstob.

Pete Sampras is trying to break Roy Emerson's Grand Slam Championships total of 12, which he currently is tying and he knows that the chances of breaking the record will become even harder and fewer chances will arise as he is now nearing his 29th birthday and is without a doubt in the autumn of his professional playing career. So, the saying the "No pain, no gain" is very appropriate to this championship for Pete Sampras.

Sampras conceded to this when he said, "This is what I'm dealt. I've just got to make the best of it, and do what I can."

Gimelstob also admitted to preferring to play against Sampras when he wasn't carrying an injury. "I'd rather play him not injured, do you ever remember him losing injured? He seems to thrive on playing injured. It doesn't matter if you hit serves on the side of the line every time."

Perhaps had Gimelstob possessed a more complete and threatening game, the outcome would have been different, such as longer points in which Sampras may have been tested more. One thing is certain Sampras is going to face a tougher challenge in the 4th round on Monday when he meets Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman.

"He is going to make me work very hard, but I'm here to complete the tournament, win or lose. Guys are going to know that I'm a little hurt. I'm sure they're going to feel a little pressure."

"My movement is one of my best advantages. I'm not moving 100%, but even when I'm 80% I think I still move better than a lot of guys on grass."

Of course Sampras is going to be continuing pain relieving treatment on his injured leg as he has made it clear that withdrawing from the tournament is not an option that has entered his thoughts.

There is a strong chance Sampras could meet 2nd seeded Andre Agassi in the final, as Agassi is still on course after winning his match against Jerome Golmard 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

"If injury is any indication of his quality of tennis, I wouldn't want to play him injured either." Agassi said of his long-standing rival Pete Sampras.

Based on Art Spander, SportsWritersdirect - "Injured Sampras find a way to win" and Steve Wilstein (AP) "Sampras survives injury, slow start"


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