The greatest: Pete Sampras – cool head with a weapons-grade serve

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Floyd
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The greatest: Pete Sampras – cool head with a weapons-grade serve

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In our series on the best players of the past 50 years, we look at the calm Californian who was world No 1 for six straight years[list][*][url=https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/ ... t-50-years]Who’s your choice? Have your say[/url][/list]Hollywood endings are exceedingly rare among even the greatest champions. Muhammad Ali fought 10 more times after the [url=https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/ ... ier-boxing]hellfire of Manila[/url] left him with nothing more to prove, finally quitting after a bleak defeat to Trevor Berbick that was staged in the Bahamas because no US state athletic commission would license him. Michael Jordan came out of retirement for two meandering seasons with the Washington Wizards rather than ride off into the sunset after [url= game-winning jumper[/url] to clinch a sixth title with the Chicago Bulls.No one can accuse Pete Sampras of not knowing when to leave the party. He entered the last tournament of his prodigious career, the 2002 US Open, on a career-worst run of form: no titles in 33 events, more than two years removed from his most recent major championship, and still smarting from a loss to the world No 145, George Bastl, in the second round of Wimbledon, the tournament that he had made his birthright. But the quiet Californian fought his way through the draw as the No 17 seed to reach the final at Flushing Meadows, where he [url= off his epochal rival Andre Agassi[/url] in four gripping sets, pounding a career-high 84 winners in a performance he described afterwards as the “highest level I’ve ever played”. Related: [url=https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/ ... id-19-rise]Plans to stage 2021 Australian Open in Melbourne remain despite Covid-19 rise[/url] At 14 he made the preposterously risky decision to switch to a one-handed backhand and adopt a serve-and-volley style Related: [url=https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2010/ ... i-argument]Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi trade verbal volleys[/url] Between them, Sampras and Agassi have won the last four Wimbledons, three of the last five US Opens, and the last two Australian Opens, not to mention about $20m in official cash (and unknowable millions in endorsements, much of it from Nike). They represent opposite routes to the top of the tennis ladder. Agassi, programmed since birth to be a champion, only started to fulfil his talent after finally conquering his resentment over the lack of say in his own fate. Sampras, a “natural”, suddenly bloomed at 19 with a straight-set thrashing of Agassi at the 1990 US Open, becoming its youngest-ever champion, and has suffered nary a misstep since. Their rivalry, which has come to a boil this year, hasn’t just rekindled interest in a dying game - it’s the whole show.Peter de Jonge, the Guardian, 4 September 1995
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