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Bjorkman Left Feeling Down & Out as Sampras Rediscovers His Best Form

July 3, 2000

If ever the Acupuncture industry needed someone to advertise the benefits of their treatments, then Pete Sampras' performance on Centre Court against Jonas Bjorkman could not be a better advertisement for them!

For it is Dr. Sun, a local practitioner in Chinese remedies that Pete Sampras has been visiting for treatment on his injured shin, and the treatment seems to have worked wonders as the change in Sampras' form and presence on court was a far cry from that of the guy we saw struggle against Justin Gimelstob.

There was a banner that aptly hailed, "Pistol Pete is playing for history"; which was exactly true as he is aiming for ultimate greatness in the sport.

Jonas Bjorkman had been expected to cause Pete Sampras a few problems in their match, but nothing seemed to faze the defending champion as he destroyed Bjorkman and dumped him out of Wimbledon 2000 in a match lasting 1 hour and 35 minutes, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. The first set having only lasted 29 minutes and seeing Sampras breaking Bjorkman's service game with a blistering backhand down the line.

Some people don't believe in miracles, but you got the feeling that Pete Sampras did believe it now!

The only thing that seemed to put a dark cloud over an otherwise wonderful win for Sampras was the whispers coming from cynical players in locker room that perhaps this great player was deceiving them all by pretending to be injured, to in some way gain the upper hand mentally over his opponents. But why would a player of such talent and someone who has achieved so much want to deceive his opponents in that way? Perhaps these cynics are really mindful of the fact that such a great player may be more dangerous if carrying an injury?

Sampras seemed to have sensed that this was the feeling of his defeated opponent when they shook hands at the end of the match.

"I'm tired of talking about the injury, there are a lot of cynical players out there reading all this stuff and I could tell by the way Jonas shook my hand what he was thinking." Sampras confided.

"For the first time the pressure's kind of on my opponent a little bit. They know I'm a little bit injured. The pressure's on them and they're not liking it."

"They can believe or read what they want to. A lot of players think whatever they think. You can just tell. But that's fine. There's always a cynical comment you hear. But I've always prided myself on getting through. My body has been fragile the last couple of years but this is the biggest tournament and I am going to do what I have to do. People who know me know I have high integrity."

In his own defence Bjorkman refused to admit to this sentiment and said the handshake was a reaction to losing.

"Losing in straight sets was a big disappointment for me, I didn't play as good as expected and I shook his hand as I do when very disappointed. I should get respect for that. I'm here to win as well. I don't care if he's faking it or not."

Sampras' next opponent, Jan-Michael Gambill gave his opinion on the situation by stating, "If you were playing Pete and he had a broken leg, you wouldn't say the match was won." So, at least not all of the players are of the opinion that the injury is just a deception!

The amazing turn around in Sampras' form, shouldn't be looked upon in a cynical way, it should be looked upon as a testament to what a great champion is, for how many players would play through such a pain barrier and still manage to produce genius play?

There was none of the cautiousness or tentativeness that was apparent in that 1st set against, Justin Gimelstob on Saturday. And the expression of anxiousness and worry was also gone from Pete Sampras's face.

All those negative factors were replaced by a presence only matched by the glorious summers day weather that graced Wimbledon in the early afternoon.

It was a look that hadn't been seen or worn by this great player who has long been hailed the greatest tennis player the world has ever seen - a player who hardly ever shows any emotion when he plays, just like a professional poker player.

Sampras today was obviously like a man who had been reborn and openly showed a delighted Centre Court crowd his elation by raising his arms after one glorious winning volley during the one-sided first set and encouraged them to cheer his excellence. He also punched his fist in the air after hitting a winning backhand pass, followed by a powerful forehand winner that gave him a service break in the first set. Then when he hit yet another backhand winner to secure that all-important break early in the second set, he looked up into the players box at his beautiful fiancée Bridgette Wilson and let out a lion like roar to show his elation!

"My body language against Justin was pretty poor," conceded Sampras "I dropped my head even more than usual. My coach Paul Annacone and people said I should show a bit more energy for myself, the crowd and my opponent." He also admitted to his coach saying that he wanted him to "Show me a little more energy. So I made an effort to show a little more emotion."

"My energy was a lot better today. I went out with a positive attitude and at the moment I'm pretty confident. The foot's just OK, it's sore and that pretty much it but mentally I'm a lot better."

A banner that said "Smokin' Sampras" was nearly close to describing this great player, but he was more than just smoking he was on fire, his serve was consistently hard and precise, his volleys and ground strokes powerfully penetrative and constantly finding their target.

Sampras executed all of these skills against a player like Bjorkman who had in the past been ranked as high as number 4 in the world rankings and has been a Grand Slam semi-finalist and who is currently playing at the peak of his form.

The Swedish player had also significantly won 6 of his last 7 matches, and hadn't lost a set in reaching this fourth round match. He had also beaten Tim Henman at Nottingham 2 weeks earlier.

Bjorkman is known on the tour for his impersonations and mimicking of his fellow players, amongst those is Sampras, but today he couldn't find anything to impersonate. Although he kept his unforced errors to a minimum Bjorkman still found himself out of his depth as Sampras kept firing down winning shots after winning shots. If only he could have mimicked such brilliance!

A perfect example of the brilliance needed in the match came at one point in the 3rd set when Bjorkman was forced to produce 4 really great shots of genius to win a single point.

Even when Bjorkman managed to produce his only break point of the match, again in the 3rd set, Sampras dashed any hopes of breaking by serving a 113mph second serve ace followed by two more aces to take that game. Sampras's brilliance and accuracy on his serve so frustrated Jonas Bjorkman that he snatched a ball from a ball boy and slammed it into the ground.

The match came to an end when although Bjorkman was playing his best tennis, succumbed to the pressure piled upon him by the sheer brilliance of Sampras returns and forced him to double fault which gave the defending champion the break of serve in the 11th game.

The black clouds were replaced by sunshine, and Sampras was anxious to complete the match and duly served the match out and claimed the victory to take him into the quarter finals and edge another step forward towards the possibility of winning that record breaking 13th Grand Slam title on the Centre Court he has come to call his home away from home!

"It's a court on which I've lost one match in 7 years, I'm very comfortable with the surroundings. Hopefully I can get back on Centre and get back home."

If he can sustain this form, and manage to contain the injury it will be a very difficult task for any opponent to stop him from claiming the title and the record.

Based on "On-song Sampras leaves Bjorkman sick by Frank Malley, PA Chief Sports Writer & "Sampras wins the mind game as well" by Stephen Bierley


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