One of the greatest tennis players that ever played, perhaps the best of his generation, was Pete Sampras. Over his professional career of 14 years, he won countless tennis tournaments, defeating many repeated rivals time and time again and became an inspiration to many young tennis players the world over. Many of his records still stand today, including being the last American to win Wimbledon in 2000.
Sampras’ ethnicity is Greek and was born in Maryland and raised in California. At the tender age of three, he found a tennis racket in the family garage and spent hours hitting balls against the wall. He had found his game and took great joy in the activity. Once in California, he was able to take advantage of the warmer weather and his passion for tennis bloomed. When his family joined a local tennis club, Sampras’ true talent was discovered and so obvious he came to the attention of his future coach, Peter Fischer, a man that worked with Sampras for many years and was instrumental in his development. Fischer was able to convert Sampras double handed backswing into a single hand, in preparation for competition at Wimbledon.
He became a professional tennis player at an insanely young age, 16, and went skyrocketing up the rankings in his first year. His star was on the rise even then and the tennis world was set to watch it happen. He began very quickly defeating top ranked players whenever he had matched with them, climbing the ladder towards his eventual goal of reaching #1 tennis player in the world.
By 1990, at just 19 years of age, he would be close to this goal, being ranked at #5. He upset higher ranked opponents and it seemed the young superstar was unstoppable in his quest for tennis dominance and in fact he was. It was during this year Sampras won his first Grand Slam title, the US Open, and he would face and defeat one of his most common rivals in Andre Agassi for the first time in the tourney championship. Sampras was the youngest ever US Open singles champion in tournament history.
The next couple years would see him winning tournaments and making his only appearance at the ’92 Summer Olympics. He was finding himself as the defending champion at certain tourneys, rather than the one unseated the champion, and his ranking continued to rise to the top of the tennis world.
In April of 1993, he would reach his goal of being ranked the world’s #1 tennis player. A few months later he would win Wimbledon by defeating the world’s former #1 in Jim Courier in the final match. He then won the US Open for the second time and set another record by being the first player to serve over one thousand aces in a single season. Wimbledon would be his most successful stomping grounds and excepting a single defeat in the quarterfinals in ’96 to Richard Krajicek, he would win there for the rest of the decade, becoming the most successful male player in the prestigious tournament’s history, another record that still stands today.
The rest of the ‘90’s would see him winning many other tournaments but the pressure of defending titles was beginning to show on him and perhaps the wear and tear of such constant competition was taking its tool. He had more success than disappointment but his viability as the best in the world began to sag. He was still a young man by 1999, but the year began with defeat as he withdrew from the Australian and did not win a title at the beginning of the season.
But the young lion was not finished. Sampras went on a tear, winning 24 straight matches, including another Grand Slam title and equaling the record of 12 total titles.
Is he the greatest the sport has ever seen? Perhaps. The numbers are certainly on his side.