American ace Pete Sampras, perhaps one of the greatest in the men’s game, took his retirement in 2002, aged only 31, after having been World No. 1 for a number of years. The former top-ranked player, who over the course of his illustrious career won 14 singles Grand Slams, was regarded as the definitive king of the grass court, before of course a certain Roger Federer came along.
In a number of interviews since his retirement, Sampras has stated his dislike for travelling, which would make being a coach difficult. The 45-year-old chooses, now, to spend time with wife of 14 years Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, and the pair’s two young sons in their California home rather than focus on the game.
“When you travel 30 weeks a year for 16 years, to sit in a hotel more than I want to is not something I care to do anymore,” he said in an interview earlier this year, clarifying that he had also been offered roles in punditry and commentary, but refused outright.
In a recent interview, Sampras was asked which current player he would choose to coach, responding in the affirmative about Australian talent Nick Kyrgios. 21-year-old Kyrgios has been somewhat of a revelation on the tour, and despite not having a full-time coach, has done well over the years to improve in the rankings and this year win his first ATP500 title at the Rakuten Japan Open.
Kyrgios has been lauded by several tennis professionals – both former and current, as a rare talent; among those who have lauded him are Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who have both volunteered to mentor the young player, with current No. 1 Murray even saying it “would be a shame to see that much talent go to waste.”
Unfortunately for the young Australian, currently ranked No. 13 on the ATP World Tour, his on-court antics have made more news than his prodigious tennis skill, and the player has gained infamy for his on-and-off-court spats with several players, most key among them World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. At the 2015 Rogers Cup in Montreal, Kyrgios cast aspersions on the fidelity of Wawrinka’s partner, women’s tennis professional Donna Vekic, and he has picked fights with several on the circuit – among them chair umpires, line judges and more.
“He would be a challenge and you’d have to try and get through to him, but he’s one of the most talented players on the tour. He’s someone I’d be curious to talk to,” Sampras said of Kyrgios, and indeed, it would be an interesting match-up to see perhaps one of the quietest players on the ATP World Tour, one who had his rare outbursts of temper, coach a player known exactly for that.
“I also feel I could help Grigor Dimitrov,” he said in the interview. Interestingly, Dimitrov, at 25, is not only far older than Kyrgios on the ATP World Tour, but by the time Sampras was the age Dimitrov is now, the American had already won seven Grand Slam titles – and been World No. 1 for three consecutive years; 25 is considered ‘older’ on the tennis circuit, although the current top 3 are all older – Djokovic and Murray at 29, and Stan Wawrinka at 31. Roger Federer, who was No. 3 earlier this year, was at 34 years old the oldest male player in the men’s singles draw at Wimbledon – beaten only by 36-year-old former World No. 1 Venus Williams, who at 36 was the oldest overall.
Sampras is not the only top-ranked player to volunteer to coach Kyrgios – earlier this year, 8-time Grand Slam winner and 12-time finalist Jimmy Connors, who was as known for his fiery temper then as Kyrgios is today, has also asked to guide the young player. Connors, the ex-husband of women’s tennis icon and former World No. 1 Chris Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam titles and made a total of 34 Slam finals, has previously coached Canadian WImbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.
Kyrgios does not currently have a full-time coach, and is yet to respond to Connors’ and Sampras’ statements.