Pete Sampras is a retired American tennis player, who was considered by many to be the greatest of all time before the arrival of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
Sampras's tally of 14 Grand Slams was an all-time record at the time of his retirement, and many expected it to remain that way for a long time. While that didn't hold true, Sampras's near-invincible game on fast courts is still regarded as the standard of excellence against which all attacking players are judged.
The American also had a unique weapon the like of which has never been seen before. The Sampras serve is widely regarded as the best serve in all of tennis history.
Best finish at each of the four Grand Slams:
Australian Open: 2-time Champion (1994, 1997)
French Open: Semifinalist (1996)
Wimbledon: 7-time Champion (1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000)
US Open: 5-time Champion (1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 2002)
Highest Ranking: No. 1
No. of weeks at No. 1: 286
Style of play, strengths and weaknesses
Sampras was a true all-court player, who started his career as a baseline basher but ended it as a net-rusher. He could hit pretty much any shot from any position in the court, and what made things worse for the opponents was that he always went for the kill.
Sampras used his serve to attack relentlessly, either winning points with it outright or setting up easy winners with his forehand or at the net. His first serve was quick and precise, but his second serve was what really set him apart. Sampras's second serve could sometimes match the speed of his first serve, and often took his opponents by surprise.
What made Sampras's serve even more lethal was he could summon his best serves when he needed them most. Few players in history, if any, have been as good clutch servers as Sampras; the amount of times he saved break points with aces or service winners was staggering.
The American's forehand was also powerful and accurate, and his running forehand in particular gave nightmares to all of his opponents. He hit it flat and hard, and could smack winners off it at will.
Sampras's one-handed backhand was relatively less potent, and was especially unsuited for slower surfaces as he struggled to return high balls with it. However, he developed a very good slice over the years, which he used both for defense and as an approach shot.
Sampras's net game was one of the best in his time, and as he grew older he started relying on it a lot more than he used to. He could hit reflex volleys as well as conventional angled ones with ease, which gave his opponents very little time to react. He also had a spectacular overhead smash, and looked like he was running in the air as he set up for it.
Perhaps the only weakness in Sampras's game was his lack of topspin and consistency from the baseline. That meant he wasn't as successful on slow courts as he was on quick ones, which is reflected in the fact that he never reached the final at the French Open.
Significant Pete Sampras records
At the time of his retirement, Sampras held most of the important records in men's tennis. While some of those have been broken in recent years, he still has quite a few significant records to his name which are listed below:
- Highest number of year-end finishes as World No. 1: 6
- Most consecutive years ended as World No. 1: 6 (from 1993 to 1998)
- Best winning percentage at Wimbledon in the Open Era: 90% (63-7 win-loss record)
- One of only three players (along with Rafael Nadal and Ken Rosewall) to win a Grand Slam in his teens, 20s and 30s
- One of only three players (along with Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors) in the Open Era to win 5 US Open titles
- Youngest US Open champion in the Open Era at 19 years, 28 days
- One of only four players in the Open Era (along with Borg, Nadal and Federer) to win a Grand Slam in 4 consecutive years (Wimbledon from 1997 to 2000)
Sampras was born in Washington DC, and is of Greek origin. His father Sam and mother Georgia migrated from Greece to the USA before he was born.
Sampras's wife is former actress Bridgette Wilson, whom he married in September 2000. The couple have two children together: Christian Charles (born in November 2002) and Ryan Nikolaos (born in July 2005).
During the 1995 Australian Open, just before his quarterfinal against Jim Courier, Sampras learned that his coach and friend Tom Gullikson had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sampras played on through the match, openly weeping on the court during the changeovers, but still somehow managed to come through with a five-set win. Gullikson passed away the following year.
Sampras will always be remembered for his monster serve, but he will also be remembered for his dogged competitiveness and his ultra-aggressive playing style that set the template for quick court success.
He was a champion in every sense of the term, and became a genuine role model for all aspiring tennis players around the world. While his contemporary American Andre Agassi - with whom Sampras created an era-defining rivalry - struggled with substance abuse and lack of motivation, Sampras was always the consummate professional. He showed up on the court diligently, bringing his best almost every single match, and was duly rewarded with immense success.
The Sampras-Agassi rivalry was dominated by Sampras; he finished with a 20-14 head-to-head record in his favor. He also dominated his rivalries against all the other greats he played against, making him the undisputed champion of his era.
If it hadn't been for the brilliance of the current Big 3, Sampras might well have been regarded as the greatest player of all time. Even now, there are many who argue that on fast courts Sampras had no equal. That's a terrific achievement for a player who wasn't accorded much hype as a youngster, even after he became the youngest ever US Open champion in 1990.
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