Early Life and Career

Pete Sampras was born in Washington, D.C., and is the third son of Sam and Georgia Sampras, Greek immigrants from Sparta.[4] From an early age, Sampras showed signs of outstanding athletic ability. The young Sampras discovered a tennis racquet in the basement of his home and spent hours hitting balls against the wall. In 1978, the Sampras family moved to Palos Verdes, California, and the warmer climate there allowed seven-year-old Pete to play more tennis. The Sampras family joined the Peninsula Racquet Club. It was here that Pete's ability became apparent. By the age of 11, he had already learned the solid serve and volley tactic that would become the hallmark of his game. He was spotted by Dr. Peter Fisher, a pediatrician and a tennis enthusiast, who became his mentor for a long part of his career. He oversaw his training and arranged coaches. Fisher was instrumental in converting Sampras's two handed backhand to a one handed shot so that Sampras would have a better chance of winning Wimbledon. Fisher was later convicted of child molestation, but Sampras maintained that Fisher's behaviour towards him was normal and straightforward. Sampras later gave due credit to Fisher for orchestrating his early development as a player.

Sampras turned professional in 1988 at the age of 17. He reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open tournament in 1989, stunning defending champion Mats Wilander in a five-set match in the second round. His first top-level singles title came in February 1990, at Philadelphia. In August that year, he captured his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open. Along the way, he defeated Ivan Lendl in a five-set quarterfinal, breaking Lendl's streak of having reached eight consecutive U.S. Open finals. He defeated John McEnroe in four sets in the semifinals to set up a final with another up-and-coming American player, Andre Agassi. Sampras beat Agassi in straight sets to become the U.S. Open's youngest-ever male singles champion at the age of 19 years and 28 days. The rivalry between Agassi and Sampras became the dominant rivalry in tennis in the 1990s, with Sampras winning 20 of the 34 matches they played.


1991 saw Sampras capture the first of five career titles at the year-end Tennis Masters Cup. However, upon entering the U.S. Open as the defending champion that year, Sampras incited much controversy. After losing in the quarterfinals to Jim Courier, Sampras said that he didn't feel disappointed, and felt relieved that the pressure was no longer on him. This led to widespread criticism, including disparaging remarks from Courier and Jimmy Connors. [1] In 1992, he reached the quarterfinals of the French Open for the first of three consecutive times, made it to the Wimbledon semifinals, and finished runner-up at the U.S. Open to Stefan Edberg. Sampras would later cite his satisfaction at merely making the U.S. Open final that year as motivation to work harder and become an even better tennis player. [2] He also played on the U.S. team that won the Davis Cup, duplicating the feat in 1995.

Sampras reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in early 1993, and matched the previous year's quarterfinal performance at the French Open. April 1993 saw Sampras attaining the World No. 1 ranking for the first time. His rise to the No. 1 spot was controversial because he had not recently won any Grand Slam titles. But he justified the ranking three months later by claiming his first Wimbledon title, beating former World No. 1 Jim Courier in the final. This was swiftly followed by his second U.S. Open title. He finished the year as the clear No. 1 and set a new ATP Tour record that year by becoming the first player to serve over 1,000 aces in a season.

Sampras dominated Wimbledon for the rest of the decade following his breakthrough title in 1993. He won three consecutive titles from 1993 through 1995. He lost a 1996 quarterfinal match to Richard Krajicek, who won the title that year. Sampras, however, then won four consecutive titles from 1997 through 2000 to become the most successful male player in Wimbledon history. His win in 2000 also allowed him to break Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam men's singles titles.

Sampras won two Australian Open titles. In 1994, he defeated American Todd Martin in the final, and in 1997, he defeated Carlos Moyà of Spain in the final. One of Sampras's most memorable matches there came in 1995 when he played Courier in the quarterfinals. Sampras's long time coach and close friend, Tim Gullickson, had mysteriously collapsed during the tournament and was forced to return to the United States. Gullickson was later diagnosed with brain cancer from which he succumbed the following year. Saddened by Gullickson's illness, Sampras began visibly weeping during the match, but somehow managed to win. Sampras then lost the final to Agassi. Paul Annacone took over as Sampras's full time coach after Gullickson's illness made it impossible for him to continue coaching.

Sampras's best surface was undoubtedly the fast-playing grass courts. He was also known, however, for his all-round game and strong competitive instinct. He won back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 1995 and 1996. Sampras's only real weakness was on clay courts, where the slow surface tempered his natural attacking serve-and-volley game. His best performance at the French Open came in 1996, when he lost a semifinal match to the eventual winner, Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Despite his limited success at Roland Garros, Sampras did win some significant matches on clay. He won the 1994 Italian Open, defeating Boris Becker in the final, and two singles matches in the 1995 Davis Cup final against Russians Andrei Chesnokov and Kafelnikov in Moscow. Sampras also won a 1998 clay court tournament in Atlanta, defeating Jason Stoltenberg in the final.

In 1998, Sampras's number-one ranking was challenged by Chilean player Marcelo Rios. (In 1993, 1994, 1996, and 1997, Sampras had dominated the ATP tour.) Sampras failed to defend his Australian Open title, losing in the quarterfinals, and won Wimbledon only after a hard fought five-set victory over Goran Ivanišević. Sampras lost a five-set U.S. Open semifinal to the eventual winner Patrick Rafter after suffering a leg injury in the third set while leading the match. He lost another semifinal at the Tennis Masters Cup. Nevertheless, Sampras finished the year as the top ranked player for the sixth year in a row.

1999 also started out disappointingly, as Sampras withdrew from the Australian Open and failed to win a title during the early part of the season. However, he then had a 24-match winning streak, including the Stella Artois Championships, Wimbledon (equaling Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam singles titles), Los Angeles, and Cincinnati. He was forced to retire from the RCA Championships and the U.S. Open because of a herniated disc in his back. The combination of withdrawing from the Australian and U.S. Opens, tournaments in which Sampras had strong performances during the previous year, and the resurgence of longtime rival Andre Agassi hurt his overall ranking. Although he won the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup, Sampras failed to finish the year as World No. 1 for the first time in seven years - his year end rank was #3. Agassi ultimately finished at the top of the world rankings.


Sampras reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in early 2000 (falling to the eventual champion Agassi in a five-set match), and won the Miami Masters tournament for the third time in March. He then won a record-breaking 13th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, battling through a painful shin injury in the process. [3] After this victory, Sampras did not win another title for two years. He lost in the final of the 2000 and 2001 U.S. Open to Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt, respectively, leading many to speculate that Sampras would never capture another major title. At Wimbledon in 2001, Sampras lost to Roger Federer 7-6(7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-5 in the fourth round. The upset ended Sampras's 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon. The match also marked the only time that the two men, both of whom are widely regarded as the best players of their respective generations, would ever play one another on the ATP tour. In 2002, Sampras suffered another early exit from Wimbledon, losing in the second round to 145th ranked George Bastl of Switzerland, whose best surface was red clay.

Sampras had a relatively poor summer leading up to the 2002 U.S. Open. Greg Rusedski, who Sampras had defeated in a long five-set third round match at the U.S. Open, said that Sampras was "a step and a half slower" and predicted that Sampras would lose his next match. Sampras, however, then defeated two young and upcoming stars of the game, Tommy Haas in the fourth round and Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. He then defeated Sjeng Schalken in the semifinals to reach his third straight U.S. Open final. This time, he faced Agassi, who he had met in his very first Grand Slam final 12 years earlier. After a four-set battle between the two veterans, Sampras claimed a record 14th Grand Slam singles title and matched Jimmy Connors's record of five U.S. Open singles championships. The tournament turned out to be the last of Sampras's career.

Although he played no tour events in the following 12 months, Sampras did not officially announce his retirement until August 2003, just prior to the U.S. Open. Sampras chose not to defend his title, but his retirement announcement was timed so that he could say farewell at a special ceremony organized for him at the open.

Sampras played the first exhibition match since his retirement on April 6, 2006, in Houston, Texas against Robby Ginepri. Ginepri won the match 6-3, 7-6.

During his career, Sampras won 64 top-level singles titles (including 14 Grand Slams and 11 ATP Masters Series titles) and two doubles titles. He was ranked the World No. 1 for a record 286 weeks and was year-end No. 1 for a record six consecutive years from 1993 through 1998.

In 2006, Sampras announced he would be playing in World Team Tennis events. 2007 saw Sampras announcing that he would play in a few events on the Outback Champions Series, a group of tournaments for former ATP players who have met certain criteria during their careers. [4] Sampras won his first two events on tour, defeating Todd Martin in both finals (one of which included Sampras's first trip to his ancestral homeland, Greece). [5] Many observers noted that despite his lengthy layoff from competitive tournaments, Sampras still possessed many of the previous skills he had once displayed on the ATP tour, with John McEnroe going as far as to say that Sampras would be worthy of a top five seed at Wimbledon if he were to enter the tournament. [6]

In May of 2007, it was announced that Sampras would square off against Roger Federer in a series of three exhibition matches across Asia in November. [7]

Playing Style

Sampras preparing to serve. Sampras was a serve and volleyer known for several facets in his game, in particular:

an accurate and powerful first serve, one of the best of all time;[5] a second serve nearly as powerful as his first, possibly his most dangerous weapon; great disguise on both his first and second serves; his athleticism, footspeed, and court coverage; classic, almost throwback form on most of his strokes, including a classic eastern grip forehand and similar grip on the backhand; his forehand, and in particular his "running forehand" (a forehand hit on the run), was considered the best in the world; a reliable one-handed backhand[6], which he could hit with topspin or slice deep; his net game - Sampras's volleys were excellent, and he arguably possessed the best overhead smash in the history of the men's game; his mental focus, allowing him to play his best at decisive moments, such as hitting second serve aces at break point down. Sampras's classically smooth service motion gave him many easy points on aces or service winners. Overall, his serve had great disguise, very quick racquet-head speed, great back-arch, powerful leg-drive, and incredible forearm/wrist pronation. The speed of his serves was frequently 120-140 mph (193-225km/h) on 1st and 110-120 mph (177-193km/h) on second serves. Sampras is considered by many to have had the best second serve in history. He was known for producing aces on critical points, even with his second serves.

Opponents frequently played to his backhand, which was considered to be his weaker side. To counter this, Sampras often camped on the backhand side while rallying from the baseline and often baited opponents for his great running forehand. Later on in his career, as his foot speed slightly declined, Sampras was forced to play closer to the center of the court.

His style changed dramatically between the early 1990s and the time he retired. Sampras excelled on hard courts. He served and volleyed on his first serve and frequently stayed back on his second serve. Towards the latter part of his career on hard courts, Sampras played a serve and volley game on both his first and second serves. On grass courts, Sampras served and volleyed on both serves throughout his career. When not serving in the early years of his career, his strategy was to be aggressive from the baseline, put opponents in a defensive position, and finish points at the net.

In his later years, he became even more aggressive and would either employ a chip-and-charge strategy—just chip back the return and run up to the net, waiting for a volley or try to hit an offensive shot on the return and follow his return to the net. Sampras's aggressive strategies worked best on fast surfaces—like hardcourts and, in particular, grass— but were weaker on slow surfaces like clay. As a result, he dominated Wimbledon (played on grass) but never won the French Open (played on clay).

Personal and Family Life

Sampras's older sister Stella is head coach at UCLA,[7] and his younger sister, Marion, is a teacher in Los Angeles. His older brother, Gus, is tournament director at Scottsdale ATP event.

On September 30, 2000, Sampras married American actress and former Miss Teen USA Bridgette Wilson.[8] On November 21, 2002, their son Christian Charles was born.[9] On July 29, 2005, the couple welcomed their second son, Ryan Nikolaos.[10]

Sampras has thalassemia minor, an inherited disease that causes anemia.[11] Thalassemia minor limits physical and athletic endurance and causes those who have it to feel fatigued when forced to perform athletic feats. Sampras was generally able to control this condition, although he was not known for his endurance in extremely long matches. Sampras vomited on the court during his epic 7-6, 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 win in the 1996 US Open quarterfinals against Alex Corretja - a match that lasted 4 hours and 9 minutes. During this match, Pete's close friend and radio presenter Patrick McCafferty turned up during the second set.

Sampras's businesslike attitude to tennis and cautious handling of the press led critics to bemoan his lack of charisma, but his natural talent and work ethic, combined with his introverted nature, led him to let his accomplishments speak for themselves.



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Pete Sampras


Nation: United States of America

Pro Debut: 1988

Year Retired: 2003

Age: 34

Height: 6'1

Weight: 170lbs

Current Rank: N/A

Career Earnings: $43,280,489

Grand Slam Titles: 14

Singles Titles: 64

Doubles Titles: 2

Racket Used: Wilson

Shoes Used: Nike

Dominant Hand: Right

Date of Birth: 8/12/71

Place of Birth: Washington, D.C.

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