Pete Sampras is unarguably one of the greatest tennis players that have ever lived. During his 15 year career, he won 14 Grand Slam titles. Of these, he won the Wimbledon 7 times, a record shared with William Renshaw. Another record that he holds is for winning the US Open 5 times. This record is shared by Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer, both former world no. 1 players.
Even though he is now retired, he is held in extremely high esteem by players, both present and past. He was born in 1971 in Potomac, Maryland on 12th August to Georgia and Sammy Sampras. He was the third child in the family and showed a knack for athletics from a very early age. At the age of three, he found a disused tennis racket in the basement of their house, and spent hours hitting balls against the wall. The family moved to warmer climates, which allowed Pete to play more tennis. His childhood hero was Rod Laver, and at the age of 11, he met his childhood hero and also played with him. His talent for tennis was spotted by Peter Fischer, who was a tennis enthusiast and a pediatrician. Fischer was also Sampras’ first coach and changed his double-handed backhand to a single-handed backhand.
Sampras started playing professionally at the age of sixteen and cracked the junior top 100 in his first year of professional tennis. He started with a ranking of 893, but finished the year at no 97. In 1988, he improved his ranking to 81. In 1990, he finished the year with a ranking of 5, having beaten Andre Agassi, who was then ranked sixth, and Andres Gomez, who was ranked 18. The same year, he also won his first Grand Slam by beating Andre Agassi and becoming the youngest winner of the US Open at 19 years and 28 days.
In 1991, he was the defending champion of the US Open and lost to Jim Courier. Following his loss, Sampras said that he was more relieved than disappointed because the responsibility of defending the title was no longer on his shoulders. This statement caused massive controversy in the world’s tennis press, and Sampras had to face criticism from greats such as Jimmy Connors, and also from Jim Courier himself.
The period in Pete Sampras’ career from 1993 to 1996 was extremely eventful. He reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and the quarterfinals of the French Open, something that he did consecutively for the next three years. He also reached the world ranking no. 1 for the first time, but it was mired in controversy since he hadn’t won any Grand Slams in the recent past. However, he justified his ranking by winning the Wimbeldon that year for the first time. He went on to win the Wimbeldon 6 more times during his career, which made him the most successful male player in Wimbeldon history. Sampras’ best plating surface was quick grass, and this aided him in winning the Wimbeldon so many times.
He played his last tournament in 2002, and he signed off in style, winning the US Open by beating Andre Agassi in the finals.