Tennis Legend : Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras


Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras in 2008


Pistol Pete , Outlaw Pete ,

King of Swing


United States


Los Angeles, California

Date of birth

August 12, 1971 (age 38)

Place of birth

Washington, D.C.


1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)


170 lb (77 kg) 1

Turned pro





Right-handed; one-handed backhand

Career prize money

US$ 43,280,489

Int. Tennis HOF

2007 ( member page )




Career record

762–222 (77.44%)


Career titles



Highest ranking

No. 1 (April 12, 1993)


Grand Slam results


Australian Open

W ( 1994 , 1997 )


French Open

SF ( 1996 )



W ( 1993 , 1994 , 1995 , 1997 , 1998 , 1999 , 2000 )


US Open

W ( 1990 , 1993 , 1995 , 1996 , 2002 )


Major tournaments

Tour Finals

W ( 1991 , 1994 , 1996 , 1997 , 1999 )

Olympic Games

3R ( 1992 )



Career record



Career titles



Highest ranking

No. 27 (February 12, 1990)


Grand Slam Doubles results

Australian Open

2R (1989)

French Open

2R (1989)


3R (1989)

US Open

1R (1988, 1989, 1990)

Last updated on: July 5, 2008 .

Pete Sampras (born August 12, 1971 ) is a retired American tennis player and former World No. 1 . During his 15-year career, he won 14 Grand Slam men's singles titles, and had a 203–38 win-loss record over 52 Grand Slam singles tournament appearances. 2

He debuted on the professional tour in 1988 and played his last top-level tournament in 2002 when he won the US Open, defeating longtime rival Andre Agassi in the final. He was the year-end World No. 1 for six consecutive years (1993–1998), a record for the open era and tied for third all-time. His seven Wimbledon singles championships is a record shared with William Renshaw . His five US Open singles titles is an open-era record shared with former World No. 1 player Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer . The American journalist and television sportscaster Bud Collins has named Sampras as one of the top five men's tennis players of all time, 3 and Tennis Magazine has named him the greatest tennis player from 1965 to 2005. 4 On July 17, 2007 , Sampras was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame . 5

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Early life and career

Pete Sampras was born in Washington, D.C. , and is the third child of Sammy and Georgia Sampras. His mother immigrated from Sparta , Greece , while his father was born in the United States to a Greek immigrant father and a Jewish mother. 6 7 Greek culture played a big role in his upbringing. 7 8 Pete attended regular services of the Greek Orthodox Church on Sundays. 9 From an early age, Sampras showed signs of outstanding athletic ability. At age 3 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. From early on, his great idol was Rod Laver , and at 11 Sampras met and played with him. 10 The Sampras family joined the Peninsula Racket Club, and it was here that Sampras's talent became apparent. He was spotted by Peter Fischer , a pediatrician and tennis enthusiast, who coached Sampras until 1989. 10 11 Fischer was responsible for converting Sampras's two-handed backhand to one-handed with the goal of being better prepared to win Wimbledon . 12


Sampras turned professional in 1988, at the age of 16, and finished the year ranked World No. 97 after starting the year at World No. 893. 13 His first professional match was a loss to Sammy Giammalva, Jr. at the February Ebel U.S. Pro Indoor in Philadelphia . But just one week later at the Lipton International Players Championships in Miami , Sampras defeated two top-40 players before losing to World No. 18 Emilio Sánchez . He did not defeat another top-40 player for almost six months, when he defeated World No. 39 Michiel Schapers at a US Open warm-up tournament in Rye Brook, New York . In his first Grand Slam singles match, Sampras lost to World No. 69 Jaime Yzaga of Peru in the first round of the US Open 6–7, 6–7, 6–4, 7–5, 6–2. Sampras did not advance past the quarterfinals in his next three tournaments, although he did record wins over World No. 79 Jim Courier , in their first career match-up, and World No. 8 Tim Mayotte . 14

The following year, Sampras slightly improved his ranking to a year-ending World No. 81. 15 He lost in the first round of the 1989 Australian Open to Christian Saceanu and the first round of Wimbledon to Todd Woodbridge 7–5, 7–6, 5–7, 6–3. He won a Grand Slam singles match for the first time at the French Open before losing in the second round to eventual champion, 17-year-old Michael Chang , 6–1, 6–1, 6–1 in their first career match-up. At the US Open , Sampras defeated defending champion and fifth-seeded Mats Wilander in the second round 5–7, 6–3, 1–6, 6–1, 6–4 before losing to World No. 13 Jay Berger in the fourth round. To end the year, Sampras lost in the first round of four consecutive tournaments. 16

Sampras finished 1990 at World No. 5, having started the year ranked World No. 61 just prior to the start of the Australian Open. 17 He lost to Wilander in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Sydney . At the Australian Open, Sampras upset twelfth-ranked Mayotte in the first round 7–6, 6–7, 4–6, 7–5, 12–10 before losing to thirteenth-ranked Yannick Noah in the fourth round in four sets. His first professional singles title came in February at the Ebel U.S. Pro Indoor in Philadelphia, where he defeated sixth-ranked Andre Agassi , eighth-ranked Mayotte, and eighteenth-ranked Andrés Gómez in the final. This title elevated his ranking into the top-20 for the first time. Sampras did not play the French Open and again lost in the first round of Wimbledon , this time to Christo Van Rensburg 7–6, 7–5, 7–6. Sampras played seven consecutive weeks during the North American summer hard court season. He defeated John McEnroe in the quarterfinals of the Canadian Open but then lost to Chang in the semifinals. He also reached the semifinals of the tournament in Los Angeles where he lost to World No. 2 Stefan Edberg . He did not advance past the quarterfinals in his next three tournaments, losing to Chang, Richey Reneberg , and Goran Ivaniševic . In September, he captured his first Grand Slam title at the US Open . Along the way, he defeated sixth-ranked Thomas Muster in the fourth round and third-ranked Ivan Lendl in a five-set quarterfinal, breaking Lendl's streak of eight consecutive US Open finals. He then defeated 20th-ranked McEnroe in a four-set semifinal to set up a final with fourth-ranked Agassi. Sampras beat Agassi in straight sets to become the US Open's youngest-ever male singles champion at the age of 19 years and 28 days. 18 He played five tournaments to complete the year, winning only the Grand Slam Cup . 19


Sampras in 1992.

Sampras in 1991 captured the first of his five career titles at the year-end Tennis Masters Cup . Upon entering the US Open as the defending champion that year, he caused controversy when, after losing in the quarterfinals to Jim Courier , Sampras said that he was not disappointed and felt relieved that the pressure to defend his title was no longer on him. This led to widespread criticism, which included disparaging remarks from Courier and Jimmy Connors . 20

In 1992, Sampras reached the quarterfinals of the French Open for the first of three consecutive years, made it to the Wimbledon semifinals, and was the runner-up at the US Open to Stefan Edberg . Sampras later stated that his loss in the US Open final that year was a "wake-up call" and that he needed to figure out how to become the World No. 1. 21 He also played doubles with John McEnroe on the US 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. In April 1993, Sampras attained the World No. 1 ranking for the first time. His rise to the top of the rankings spot was controversial because he had not recently won any Grand Slam titles, 22 but he justified his ranking three months later by claiming his first Wimbledon title, beating former World No. 1 Jim Courier in the final. This was followed by his second US 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 more than 1,000 aces in a season.

Except for a loss in the 1996 quarterfinals to eventual winner Richard Krajicek , Sampras would continue to win at Wimbledon for the rest of the decade , becoming the most successful male player in Wimbledon history. 23

Sampras won the first of his two Australian Open titles in 1994, defeating American Todd Martin in the final. In 1995 Sampras experienced one of the most emotional matches of his career when he played Courier in the quarterfinals. 24 Sampras's longtime coach and close friend, Tim Gullikson , had mysteriously collapsed during the tournament and was forced to return to the United States . Gullickson was later diagnosed with brain cancer to which he succumbed the following year. Saddened by Gullickson's illness, Sampras began visibly weeping during the match, but managed to win. He 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 . 25 He was also known for his all-round game and strong competitive instinct. He won back-to-back US 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 a 1992 clay court tournament in Kitzbuhel, defeating Alberto Mancini in the final. He won the prestigious Italian Open in 1994, defeating Boris Becker in the final, and two singles matches in the 1995 Davis Cup final against Russians Andrei Chesnokov and Yevgeny Kafelnikov in Moscow. Sampras also won a 1998 clay court tournament in Atlanta , defeating Jason Stoltenberg in the final.


Sampras won his second Australian Open title in January, defeating Carlos Moyà in the final; in July he won Wimbledon for the fourth time, defeating Cedric Pioline in the final. Sampras also won singles titles in San Jose , Philadelphia, Cincinnati , Munich , and Paris and the ATP Tour World Championships in Hannover, Germany . He became the only player to win both the Grand Slam Cup and the ATP Tour World Championships in the same year.

He had a 10-1 win-loss record against top 10 opponents and was undefeated in eight singles finals. He held the World No. 1 ranking for the entire year and joined Jimmy Connors (1974–1978) as the only male players to hold the year-end World No. 1 ranking for five consecutive years. His prize money earnings of US$ 6,498,211 for the year was a career high.


In 1998, Sampras's number-one ranking was challenged by Chilean player Marcelo Ríos . (In 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 1997, Sampras had dominated the ATP tour.) Sampras failed to defend his Australian Open title, losing in the quarterfinals to Karol Kucera , and won Wimbledon only after a hard fought five-set victory over Goran Ivaniševic . Sampras lost a five-set US Open semifinal to the eventual winner Patrick Rafter after leading the match two sets to one. 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 went on 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 . That run ended when he was forced to retire from the RCA Championships and the US Open because of a herniated disc in his back. Sampras's ranking was hurt through a combination of withdrawing from the Australian and US Opens, tournaments in which he had strong performances during the previous year, and the resurgence of longtime rival Andre Agassi , putting an end to Sampras' six consecutive years of finishing as the World No. 1. Agassi took over the top ranking and held it for the rest of the season, but Sampras recovered and managed to beat him in the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup for the fifth and final time, enabling Sampras to place 3rd in the 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 Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida 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. 26 This victory was his eighth consecutive win in a Grand Slam final (starting at 1995 Wimbledon ), which remains a record. After this victory, Sampras did not win another title for more than two years. He lost in the finals of the 2000 and 2001 US Open to Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt , respectively, leading many to speculate that Sampras would never capture another major title. At the 2001 Wimbledon Championships , Sampras lost to Roger Federer , who was 19 at the time, 7–6(7), 5–7, 6–4, 6–7(2), 7–5 in the fourth round, ending Sampras's 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon. The match also marked the first and only time that the two men ever played each other on the ATP tour.


In 2002, Sampras suffered his second consecutive 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 US Open . Greg Rusedski , whom Sampras had defeated in a long five-set third round match at the US 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 US Open final, and eighth US Open final overall, tying Ivan Lendl 's all-time record. This time, he faced Agassi, whom 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 then record 14th Grand Slam singles title and matched Jimmy Connors 's record of five US Open singles championships.

He played no tour events in the following 12 months, but did not officially announce his retirement until August 2003, just prior to the US Open. He chose not to defend his title there, but his retirement announcement was timed so that he could say farewell at a special ceremony organized for him at the open. After retirement, many regarded Sampras to be the greatest player of all time. 27

Sampras won 64 top-level singles titles (including 14 Grand Slam titles, 11 Super 9 / ATP Masters Series titles, and five Tennis Masters Cup 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.

Rivalry with Patrick Rafter

Sampras won 12 of the 16 matches he played against Rafter, including eight of their first nine. 28 Their rivalry began to truly develop after Rafter shocked the tennis world by winning the 1997 US Open , a tournament that many expected Sampras to win, having won in 1995 and 1996; the win catapulted Rafter to the year-end number two ranking behind Sampras. Many, including seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe believed Rafter to be a "one-slam wonder", since it was only his second career ATP title. 29

In 1998, after Rafter defeated Sampras in the Cincinnati Masters final, Sampras, at the time winner of 11 Grand Slams, when asked about the difference between himself and Rafter, famously stated "Ten grand slams", that a controversial line-call cost him the match, and that a player had to come back and win another Grand Slam title in order to be considered great. 30 The two met in the semifinals of the 1998 US Open , with Rafter winning in five sets. Sampras refused to show Rafter respect in defeat, instead citing a leg injury as the reason Rafter won, an attitude that upset the generally mild-mannered Aussie: "He really does say some funny things at the wrong time," said Rafter, "We are out there busting our guts and he doesn't show a lot of respect at the end of the day. He tries to play down the reason why he lost, giving no respect to the other player, and that is what really upsets me about him and the reason I try to anger him as much as I can." 31

Following his successful defense of his 1997 U.S. Open title by defeating Mark Philippoussis in the 1998 final, when asked about Sampras' earlier comments about having to win another Grand Slam in order to be considered great, Rafter replied: "Maybe you can ask him that question, if he thinks that now. For me, I won another Slam, and it hasn't sunk in yet. It's very, very exciting for me, especially to repeat it". 32 Although Sampras throughout his career modeled himself after "those classy Aussies" including Rod Laver , Ken Rosewall , and Roy Emerson , he admitted about Rafter: "When I see him holding the US Open trophy, it pisses me off." 33

After losing for a third consecutive time against Rafter, Sampras won their final four meetings, including a four-set victory in the 2000 Wimbledon final after being down a set and trailing in the second-set tiebreaker. The victory gave Sampras his 13th Grand Slam title, breaking the record of 12 by Roy Emerson and at that time giving Sampras the most Grand Slam titles in history, until his record was eclipsed by Roger Federer following the 2009 Wimbledon final.

Rivalry with Andre Agassi

Sampras won 20 of the 34 matches he played against Agassi. 34

The 1990 US Open was their first meeting in a Grand Slam tournament final. Agassi was favored because he was ranked World No. 4 compared to the World No. 12 ranking of Sampras and because Agassi had defeated Sampras in their only previously completed match. However, Agassi lost the final to Sampras in straight sets.

With both Sampras and Agassi participating, the U.S. won the Davis Cup in 1995. Notable Sampras-Agassi matches of 1995 included the finals of the Australian Open , the Newsweek Champions Cup , the Lipton International Players Championships , the Canadian Open , and the US Open , with Sampras winning the Newsweek Champions Cup and the US Open.

The next time Sampras and Agassi met in a Grand Slam final was at Wimbledon in 1999, where Sampras won in straight sets. For both, it was considered a career rejuvenation, as Sampras had suffered a string of disappointments in the last year while Agassi was regaining his status as a top-ranked player after winning the French Open. Sampras forfeited the World No. 1 ranking to Agassi when injury forced Sampras to withdraw from that year's US Open. They faced each other twice in the season-ending ATP Tour World Championships , with Sampras losing the round robin match but winning the final.

They played each other only once in 2000. The top-ranked Agassi defeated World No. 3 Sampras in the semifinals of the Australian Open 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7), 7–6(5), 6–1.

In arguably their most memorable match, Sampras defeated Agassi in the 2001 US Open quarterfinals 6–7(7), 7–6(2), 7–6(2), 7–6(5). There were no breaks of serve during the entire match. Reruns of the match are frequently featured on television, especially during US Open rain delays.

The final of the 2002 US Open was their first meeting in a US Open final since 1995. The match also was notable because they had defeated several up-and-coming players en route to the final. Sampras had defeated World No. 3 Tommy Haas in the fourth round and future World No. 1 Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals while Agassi had defeated previous World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the semifinals. Sampras defeated Agassi 6–3, 6–4, 5–7, 6–4. This was the final ATP tour singles match of Sampras's career.


Sampras used one racket type, the Wilson Pro Staff Original , for his entire professional career - a racket first introduced in 1983. He played with Babolat natural gut, with all his rackets re-strung before each match (used or not) at 75 lbs tension (more or less depending on conditions). His rackets had weight added to bring them close to 400g, but the proper frame was a production model manufactured from St. Vincent , an island factory in the Caribbean . The handles were custom-built. 35

Post-retirement, Sampras has used the slightly modified Pro Staff Tour 90 and in 2008 had a new version of the original Pro Staff produced, with in-between head size of 88 square inches and heavier weight at 349 grams unstrung. 36

Post-retirement activity

Pete Sampras at Champions Cup Boston , in 2007 .

On April 6, 2006 , three and one-half years after his retirement, Sampras resurfaced and played his first exhibition match in River Oaks, Houston, Texas against 23 year old Robby Ginepri . Ginepri won the match 6–3, 7–6(10). Sampras would then later announce that 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. 37 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 ). 38 Many observers noted that despite his lengthy layoff from competitive tournaments, Sampras still possessed many of the previous skills he had once displayed when he was on the ATP tour, with tennis legend 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. 39

On November 20, 2007 , Sampras lost the first of three exhibition matches in Asia against Roger Federer losing 6–4, 6–3 in Seoul , Korea . 40 Two days later in Kuala Lumpur , Sampras again lost to Federer, 7–6(6), 7–6(5). However, Sampras was able to win the last match of the series, winning 7–6(6), 6–4, even though he stated his goal was to just win a set. 41

On February 18, 2008 , in an exhibition match during the SAP Open , Sampras defeated another active player, former World No. 2 Tommy Haas . Sampras dispatched the German, 6–4, 6–2 in 43 minutes. 42

On March 10, 2008 , Sampras played another exhibition match against World No. 1 Roger Federer at Madison Square Garden in New York City . Sampras once again lost the match 6–3, 6–7(4), 7–6(6). 43

In 2009, Sampras won two Outback Champions Series titles. He defeated McEnroe in the final of the Champions Cup Boston in February and Patrick Rafter in the final of The Del Mar Development Champions Cup in March. 44

On June 1 Sampras was at E3 to show people Grand Slam Tennis at the EA Press Conference.

Playing style

Sampras was an all-court player who would often serve-and-volley . In the early years of his career, when not serving, his strategy was to be offensive from the baseline, put opponents in a defensive position, and finish points at the net. In his later years, he became even more offensive 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.

He was known for producing aces on critical points, even with his second serves. 45 46 He had an accurate and powerful first serve , one of the best of all time; 47 His second serve was nearly as powerful as his first, possibly his most dangerous weapon. He had great disguise on both his first and second serves.

Sampras is also known for having one of the best "running forehands" during his era. He is able to catch attacks wide to his forehand using his speed and hitting a forehand shot on the run. If successfully executed, he wins the point outright or put opponents immediately on the defensive.

Personal and family life

Sampras's older sister Stella is the women's tennis head coach at UCLA , 48 and his younger sister, Marion, is a teacher in Los Angeles . His older brother, Gus, has been tournament director at the Scottsdale ATP event, but from 2007 he became president of the firm managing Pete's business activities. 49

For two years from 1997–2000 Sampras dated actress Kimberly Williams . On September 30, 2000 , Sampras married American actress and former Miss Teen USA , Bridgette Wilson . 50 On November 21, 2002 , their son Christian Charles was born. 51 On July 29, 2005 , the couple welcomed their second son, Ryan Nikolaos. 52

Sampras has thalassemia minor , a genetic trait that sometimes causes a mild anemia . 53

Career statistics

Main article: Pete Sampras career statistics

Records and achievements




Record accomplished

Player tied

Grand Slam


8 consecutive wins in Grand Slam finals

Stands alone



7 wins overall

Stands alone



7 finals overall

Roger Federer ^

Boris Becker

U.S. Open


5 wins overall

Roger Federer ^

Jimmy Connors

U.S. Open


8 finals overall

Ivan Lendl ^

ATP World Tour Finals


5 wins overall

Ivan Lendl


Summary of professional awards. 54



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