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Sad Exit for Sampras Gives Food for Thought

September 11, 2000

New York - Before today, Pete Sampras had had an amazing 13:2 record in Grand Slam finals. Now it’s ‘only’ 13:3! But in the Arthur Ashe Stadium against Marat Safin, Sampras had nothing left to give in the third set of their US Open Final. And he had already lost the first two. A tense silence hung over Centre Court, sliced by urgent cries of “Let’s go Pete!” But the only place Pete was going was home.

The scoreline was 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in the young Russian’s favour. Safin had put on a flawless performance, seeming to be inspired by this opportunity of winning his first Slam title – even against the mighty Sampras. Asked afterwards how he had managed to weather and overcome the Sampras serve, he replied ingenuously:

“Do you think I know?”

Pete’s message to the crowd afterwards was:

“I lost to a young guy who got hot today.”

This rather bemused reaction seemed to indicate that failing to add still further to his GS haul on this occasion was unexpected for Pete. He had been the favourite to win, but some people are suggesting that he is no longer as single-minded about his tennis as he used to be. Apparently, ATP Tour staffers, who see him most weeks of the year, have noticed how much more relaxed and sociable Sampras has been of late. The formerly private, tunnel-visioned Pete seems almost to have had a PR make-over. However, the reason for the change is far more likely to be the happiness in his relationship with fiancée Bridgette Wilson, whom he plans to marry later this year.

Of course Sampras was disappointed by this loss, but perhaps the new dimension in his life has given him the balance to be more philosophical.

“I can honestly say I just got out-played”, he said. “I just lost to a guy who was on a roll. But I’ll be back next year and hopefully will have another chance to play him.”

Sampras will be thirty next year and has played on the Tour since his late teens. Often criticised by those who fail to understand his need for total focus, if marriage and family take over as the Slam King’s first priority, perhaps his critics will find they miss the sublime tennis which his dedication produced.

Source: Stephen Borelli, USA


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