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Can Anyone Stop Sampras' Crusade Towards Breaking Another Record?

July 7, 2000

Although Pete Sampras may be carrying an injury to his left leg, it in no-way seems to be hampering his ability to find a way to get through his matches. Perhaps he is so consumed and focussed by his desire and determination of breaking Roy Emerson's Grand Slam Singles title record and being crowned the Greatest Tennis Player of all time that not even a painful leg injury is going to get in his way. Perhaps Wimbledon is what is bringing out his fighting spirit, he has always made it clear how special and prestigious the tournament is in his eyes.

At this year's championships, he has made more media headlines for his injury as much for his defence of his title. His passage through has been a painful one, but he hasn't met a seeded player yet. He has not dominated his matches either and he has yet to be pushed into showing the kind of greatness that he is famous for.

Despite all of this he has reached the stage of the tournament only needing to win one more match to get the record breaking 13th Grand Slam title having reached the final by beating Vladimir Voltschkov in the semi-finals, 7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4.

"It was not an easy match, because I was a really heavy favourite. I got through it. I'm very ecstatic that I'm in another final but the injury is sore and we put a little ointment on it to try and cool it down a little bit." Sampras admitted.

"It has been a different 2 weeks. It has been a struggle a little bit. I am still here and I have worked hard to get here. I haven't been practicing so I've been going out there kind of cold. I'm hoping that I'll be able to practice a little bit tomorrow. I can't afford to start slow against Rafter or have any loose games because he is obviously playing at a very high level." Sampras stated after his match, in which he needed to call for the trainer twice to attend to his injured shin.

"It would obviously be great to win it." "I'll appreciate this time much more when I'm done, looking at what I've gone through. You know, it's part of what we do. You get through touch situations."

He has always been considered a great athlete, but there has also been a question mark over his stamina. He seems to win his matches using the minimum amounts of energy. His most extravagant shot is his now trade mark leaping overhead slam which has not been witnessed too often this fortnight, perhaps due to the fact that this move would cause shooting pains in his shin.

Waiting in the final is Patrick Rafter, who played a magnificent match against Andre Agassi in a match which saw every shot in the book played and then some that maybe only two talented players like these could do.

Although Sampras has been acknowledged as one of the games best servers. He hasn't been known as one of the fastest hitting servers, as he mostly relies on the placement of his serves and mixing them up rather than merely the pace of the serve. Unlike Goran Ivanisevic and Mark Philippoussis who seem to be able to hit the serves at speeds unimaginable. Nevertheless Pistol Pete Sampras' serve is still a very dangerous weapon and major part of his game.

"I guess it must be a power and a spin combined, because a few times I had read it and I went forehand, the ball just jumped here," Voltschkov said gesturing at eye level. "Where is it coming from?"

So, obviously Sampras' serving arm is in perfect shape and working well, even if the rest of his body is letting him down.

Sampras will be 29 on August 12th maybe age and the fact that he has been playing continually since he turned professional back in 1988 have caused the many injuries of late, but I guess that is the price a player may have to pay if they wish to achieve the kind of greatness that Sampras has achieved. Sampras is regarded as some, due to his age to be in the autumn of his career, but this is not how Pete Sampras sees himself.

"I think you can play at a high level until your early 30s," Sampras commented.

"Look at what Connors did. He's a rare athlete, but he played at a high level until he was 33, won the US Open at that point." In actual fact Jimmy Connors was 31 when he won the US Open for his fifth and final time in 1983.

"I feel as long as I'm playing the game, I'll always be in contention - especially here. I feel like I can possibly win her at 30 and beyond."

"You can definitely look at Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky… they played at a high level until they were 36. Tennis is a different sport, but if can be done. It's more of a mental battle."

And who would argue with the man who currently holds 6 Wimbledon Titles and has accumulated a total of 12 Grand Slam Titles so far in his career?

Pete Sampras has never openly admitted, but he definitely wants the comparisons to stretch further than just merely being just a tennis legend, which he already is, he also wants the status of being an icon in terms of sporting greats, he wants to leave behind a legacy that future generations will try to emulate. It will take someone with an extraordinary special talent, and be all consuming determination like Pete Sampras to emulate his achievements.

Friday, brought about a match against a player that up until these championships had never been heard of, named Vladimir Voltschkov who hailed from Belarus. Although Voltschkov had won the boys singles title here back in 1996, he had failed until now to make an impression on the tennis circuit. He had made it into the tournament as a qualifier, and on course to this semi-final meeting with Sampras had beaten seeded players such as 6th seeded Cedric Pioline and Wayne Ferreira.

Despite the significance of this match, the Belarussian did not appear to be nervous or overwhelmed by his first appearance on the Centre Court against the man now considered the King of Centre Court. In fact he seemed to revel in his new surroundings. He dived all over the grass court, just like Boris Becker had done so, and he managed to push Sampras to a first set tiebreaker.

"I guess to beat Pete Sampras, you have to do something special, I just felt that… the ball is there, if you can't get there by your feet, then you have to jump. It also looks good!" Voltschkov said.

There had been a lot of talk of Voltschkov's clothing, which had obtained as much media coverage as Anna Kournikova's off court clothes! He had no clothing sponsorship, so he was kitted out in a Nike Shirt and Adidas Shorts. After his match against Byron Black in the quarterfinals, a clothing manufacturer had approached him to offer him sponsorship, but they were not ready to offer a long-term contract to him. So he was wearing the same clothing in the semi-finals.

"I washed it, of course!" he mused

Sampras commented on this "He did quite well during his stay. He can probably get a contract now for some clothes." Sampras has already had a building named after him by his sponsors, at Nike's world head offices in Oregon.

Sampras knows that his match against Rafter is going to bring about the toughest test of his title defence. Up until now Sampras' opponents have not made him work too hard to win points. He has obviously been saving his energy, just doing enough to scrape through matches and save his best form for the final.

However, Rafter is one of the best Serve & Volley players, the best being Sampras. Rafter will be using delicate backhand slices to the baseline, and forcing Sampras to bend to reach low bouncing balls. He will make Sampras run around the court. All of this will cause the pain in the Sampras shin to become worse before it gets better.

Although many a cynical persons have made comments regarding the authenticity of Sampras' injury, John McEnroe has raced to the defence of Sampras by hailing him "the best grass-court player who ever lived" and saying that a player of Sampras' stature does not need to deceive players with a fake injury to gain the upper hand.

If Sampras did not have this injury, we would have surely seen more of him being more dominating on the court by scrambling around every inch of the court to get to balls and hitting volleys as he is known to do so, instead he has had to rely on winning points as quickly and as effortlessly as possible.

To highlight of how dominant Sampras is on grass has been proved this past fortnight by how despite being impeded by the injury he has managed to dismiss his opponents and only lost 4 sets getting to the final. Many will say, "he has yet to meet a seeded player or anyone who can really push him", but against Voltschkov it was obvious that his mobility was not getting better.

"As long as I have my right arm I am still a threat on grass. Adrenalin can get you through a lot"

Unlike Rafter who punched his fist in the air after beating Agassi, Sampras only managed to limp back to the locker-room, his eyes brooding and his mouth contorted in a grimace.

With only one more match to go, perhaps this pain will be a little more bearable, especially as the adrenalin will be pumping through his veins as he makes his surge towards a 13th Grand Slam title.

"Ultimately, against Rafter, it will depend on how well I return against him. I know, though that as long as I have my right arm I am still a threat on grass. Getting to this final has been one of my best efforts. You just let it all hang out, just go out there and not think about it. The adrenaline, the occasion can really get you through a lot of tough situations on court." With those words Sampras has made it clear that Rafter is going to have to play well to beat him, as he will not make it easy on him.

So, will Sunday be a day where we all see Sampras historically be crowned the undisputed Greatest Tennis Player of all time with him winning his 7th Wimbledon title and 13th Grand Slam singles title or will we see Patrick Rafter win his first Wimbledon title?

The only thing that is certain is that whoever wins it will be a match of the highest standards.

Based on J.A. Adande (L.A. Times) "If Sampras is armed, he's still dangerous" & Oliver Holt "Sampras prepares to stretch himself after gentle passage"


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