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It's School Time for Pete Sampras

June 18, 2001

Wearing jeans and sweatshirt, Pete Sampras made a surprise visit to Park House Middle School yesterday (18 June) to give an exhibition of his play before an audience of about 300 schoolchildren aged 6 - 11. The school is located a few streets away from his temporary home in suburban London during Wimbledon 2001. Tennis' most important tournament starts 25 June and Sampras who is seeded No. 1 is heavily favored to successfully defend his title. A win here will give him a record 8th Wimbledon and 14th Grand Slam title. It will also be his 5th straight Wimbledon win equaling Bjorn Borg's record.

Sampras maybe a superstar but at Park House school Headmaster Richard King playfully said that were he to attend a PE lesson dressed in jeans and sweats "he would be straight into detention" and "would probably get lectured on hygiene and told to reconsider his standards."

For an hour, Pete Sampras gamely played before his hero-worshipping audience of children who vied for his attention all at the same time. He even kept his cool and his dazzling smile when they cheered as he lost some points during the exhibition.

"It is not everyday that a world champion comes to your school. Role models are essential and this guy is one of the greatest in the world," Headmaster King said. "I once saw him lose a match on television and he is the most gracious loser I think I have ever seen."

Despite his monumental accomplishments, Pete Sampras is the nearest thing to a regular- guy kind of sports celebrity. He credits his normality to a regular childhood and family life. Unlike Andre Agassi and Jim Courier who were bundled to Nick Bollittieri's Tennis Academy at age 12, he was still living at home at 17.

Sampras explained: "I had as normal a childhood as you can have while growing up being serious about a sport."

So on 25 June 2001, Pete Sampras will once again take to Center Court at Wimbledon to defend his title. The past 12 months have not been good to him. He has not won a single title since his 13th and his French Open performance is a disappointment to say the least.

"The past year hasn't been that great but I can put it behind me now and really look forward to Wimbledon."

"Every time I walk through the gates of Centre Court at Wimbledon it generates enough motivation for me."

"This is a time of the year when I usually play really well. I'm reasonably confident of reaching the second week and we'll see what happens from there. If I get my game going at the right time, I can do it."

Wimbledon. Pete Sampras' home away from home. At the close of Wimbledon 2001, we shall all see if it will remain so.

Based on "Talking Tennis: Sampras Goes Back to School" by Gareth A. Davies, The Telegraph, UK

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