A career on the tennis court like that of Pete Sampras was unheard of on the men’s side, until the rise of the Big-3 years later. The American tennis player turned professional in 1988 at the tender age of 16, and while he did not clinch a title until 1990, the former World No. 1 took the tennis world by storm thereafter.
His dominance was such that the tennis world wondered if the young American was even human. With an introverted personality, Pete Sampras went about his business quietly. The sporting legend had almost always held a calm and composed demeanor and let his racquet do the talking.
However, on the night of the 1995 Australian Open quarterfinal against compatriot Jim Courier, something was amiss with Pete Sampras. The American’s coach at the time, Tim Gullikson, had to fly home from Melbourne after suffering a third stroke in three months and was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Holding back his emotions, Pete Sampras contested a highly competitive quarterfinal encounter. Despite losing the first two sets to Courier in the tiebreaks, the then World No. 1 continued with relentless determination to even things out and force a deciding five set on his countryman. However, when the athlete heard a spectator cheer him on, saying, 'Do it for your coach, Pete!', the then 23-year-old could not handle his emotions and broke down into tears.
Noticing his opponent’s agony, Jim Courier offered to resume the match the next day.
“You all right, Peter? We can do this tomorrow, you know,” he said of the match that had shot well past midnight.
Pete Sampras, however, refused to back down and fought to ultimately close out the encounter in his favor 6-7 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
The American defeated yet another countryman in the semifinal – Michael Chang, to set up a final clash against arch-rival Andre Agassi, in which he was unable to cross the finish line.
While the defeat was painful for Sampras, who was vying for his sixth Grand Slam title, what bothered him more was how people handled his loss – almost relieved to discover that the formidable player was human after all.
"What pissed me off was everyone thinking, he's finally human. It took me crying on a tennis court for people to understand that I do give a crap and I do have a heart and I want to win," he said. "I'm a human being. It's always been there."
"Being consistent in any sport is tough to do” – Pete Sampras on holding the record for most consecutive year-end World No. 1s
Pete Sampras recently appeared on the ATP Tennis Radio Podcast, where he admitted that it was never a cakewalk to consistently stay on top of the game.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion still holds the record for finishing as the year-end World No. 1 for six consecutive years. He revealed that he had to make many sacrifices and deal with the pressure of being the best in order to remain consistent and reach greater heights.
"Being consistent in any sport is tough to do and six years in a row was a lot of work, some stress involved, and a great achievement. I mean, to really dominate that six years was not easy, and I wanted it, I sacrificed and worked hard and won some tennis matches along the way. But it wasn't easy," he said.