Class of 2007
World No.1 (1993)
Grand Slam Results
14-time major champion, and 4-time finalist
Overall Record: 826-292
Singles Record: 762-222
Doubles Record: 64-70
ATP World Tour Championships
Winner 1991, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999
Member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team 1991-1992, 1994-1995, 1997, 1999-2000, 2002
Member of the U.S. Championship Davis Cup Team 1992, 1995
Overall Record: 19-9
Singles Record: 15-8
Doubles Record: 4-1
There’s no drawn out prologue to the Pete Sampras Story, no opening chapter that moves at a snail’s pace, creating a confusing narrative that causes the reader to lose interest. In 1990, when he was 19 years and 28 days old, Sampras became the youngest US Open men’s singles champion in history, defeating his career-rival Andre Agassi, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. Twelve years later, Sampras ended his record-breaking career at the US Open, winning his fifth singles title at his home major and fourth overall against Agassi, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. In between those 12 years, Sampras carved out a place in history with a then-record 14 major singles titles (since tied by Rafael Nadal and passed by Roger Federer with 17), and unequivocally placed his name among the best ever to wield a racquet.
Sampras wasn’t an overnight success, it took two arduous years taking his lumps on the professional tour to round into a big-serving, big match player, but when he retired a 14-time major champion (seven Wimbledon titles, five US Open championships, two Australian Open victories), he was regarded worldwide as the consummate champion who won 14 of 18 finals, a 78 percent winning mark, best in history. His seven Wimbledon and five US Open titles are tied for best all-time. Sampras compiled a 762-222 career singles record, top-10 all-time, and captured 64 tour singles titles in 265 overall tournaments (was a finalist in 24 tournaments), fifth best all-time. In a five-year span of tour domination from 1993 through 1998, Sampras held a stranglehold on the ATP year-end rankings, finishing the year as the world’s No. 1 player six consecutive years, a record that he still holds. Jimmy Connors had held that distinction for five years (1974-78).
In comparison to his flamboyant and flashy nemesis Agassi, who Sampras faced 34 times in his career (winning 20 matches and defeating his rival in four of five major finals), Sampras was all-business on court. “I let my racquet do the talking,” he consistently told the media when asked why he wasn’t more colorful on court. “That’s what I am all about, really. I just go out and win tennis matches. I never wanted to be the great guy or the colorful guy or the interesting guy. I wanted to be the guy who won matches.”
Until Sampras won his 13th major title, Aussie Roy Emerson held – since 1967 – the record for men’s single major wins with 12. When Sampras defeated Agassi to win the 2002 US Open, Sampras became the fifth oldest champion in history at 31 years, 27 days, and the oldest since his idol Rod Laver (31 years, 1 month) in 1969.
The Potomac, Maryland native groomed his game in Rancho Palos Verdes, California at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club. In a five-year span starting in 1985 he went from 5-foot-5 to 6-foot tall and refined his game immensely, abandoning his two-handed backhand for a one-hander and ditching his wooden racquet for the new graphite technology. He turned professional at age 16 in 1988, launching his career as the No. 893 ranked player in the world. He broke into the top 100 by year end, but his first three years playing in major events didn’t produce the kind of results that would indicate future stardom. In fact, his career didn’t flourish until 1993, three years after he won the 1990 US Open. But his 1990 championship provided a glimpse of greatness, more for who he defeated to win the championship than how he became the youngest male champion in 100 years.
Prior to the tournament, Sampras was seeded No. 12 and ranked 136th in the world by the ATP. In the fourth round he took out hard-driving Austrian Thomas Muster, the No. 6 seed, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3. In the quarters he played a phenomenal match in upsetting No. 3 seed Ivan Lendl in an epic five-setter, 6-4, 7-6, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, and ending Lendl’s run of eight straight US Open finals. Sampras faced unseeded John McEnroe in the semifinals, but he was still John McEnroe playing on his favorite stage, and Sampras needed to raise his game to earn a 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory. He was peaking at just the right time, but no one could predict the 19-year-old would dismantle No. 4 Agassi so easily in the final, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. He had become the first American male to win at Flushing Meadows since McEnroe in 1984, and kept the entire field spellbound with what would become the cornerstone of his career: serving. His 13th ace of the match, and 100th of the tournament, blasted past Agassi on championship point. Sampras had instantly become the game’s new fresh-face. Said Lendl afterwards, “I think what’s so cute about him is he’s just another kid. I don’t think he’s fully realized what’s happened to him.”
As a young player, Sampras idolized Laver, as much for his ability to win on all surfaces, as how he comported himself in victory. The two shared a common playing style – serve and volley, attack, controlled tennis – but Sampras was bigger and stronger than Laver and could pound his forehand and backhand harder than the Aussie legend. What they shared was class, Sampras was the consummate champion in triumph and defeat.
Starting in 1993 and until 2000, there were considerably more triumphs than defeats. Sampras captured 12 of his major titles in this eight-year span playing in arguably the best decade in men’s tennis history. The competition was fierce and stacked. Sampras won his first Wimbledon Gentlemen Singles Championships in 1993, leading to a run of seven victories in eight years – three straight (1993-95) and four consecutively (1997-2000). At the All-England Club, Sampras compiled a 63-7 record (90 percent), second best all-time behind Björn Borg’s incredible 93 percent winning mark. He won three of five US Opens from 1993 to 1996 and his two Australian Championships were captured in 1994 and 1997 (Sampras was a finalist in 1995). He won two major singles titles in the same year four times (1993, 1994, 1995, 1997).
Sampras’s assault on the Wimbledon record books began in 1993. He won the 1993 and 1994 Wimbledon titles as the No. 1 seed, defeating Jim Courier (7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2) and Goran Ivanišević (7-6, 7-6, 6-0), respectively. His 1995 title was earned as the No. 2 seed in a 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 triumph over No. 3 seed Boris Becker. His four straight championships starting in 1997 (he lost in the 1996 quarterfinals), were all achieved as the No. 1 seed. He ousted Frenchman Cedric Pioline in 1997 (6-4, 6-2, 6-4), Ivanišević in 1998 (6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2), Agassi in 1999 (6-3, 6-4, 7-5), and Aussie Patrick Rafter in 2000 (6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2). “Whatever happened in my career or my tennis or mentally, it happened for a reason,” Sampras said. “In a lot of ways, I felt like I was born to win Wimbledon.”
At the US Open, Sampras advanced to the 1992 final against Stefan Edberg, falling 3-6, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2. In 1993 he defeated Pioline, a routine 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory. In a well-played and entertaining 1995 final against Agassi, Sampras prevailed 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. He successfully defended his title in 1996, sweeping past Michael Chang, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6. When Sampras defeated Agassi in the 2002 final, it put the finishing touches on a tremendous run at Flushing Meadows, where he compiled a 71-9 record (88 percent), best in history. It was certainly a far cry from his 1988 debut when as a wild card entrant, he lost to Peruvian Jaime Yzaga in five sets after winning the first two sets in tiebreakers, 6-7, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.
Sampras added to his legacy with a pair of Australian titles, the 1994 championship earned over Todd Martin, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4. Spain’s Carlos Moya was swept in straight sets in 1997, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3. The only major title that evaded Sampras was at the French Open, where the slow clay at Roland Garros was a stickler for Sampras, whose game was tailor-made for hard courts. His best finish in Paris was the semifinals in 1996.
The sum of Sampras’s major exploits were legendary and among the greatest achievements in history. From 1992 to 2002, he had 11 years of reaching at least one major final, a record he shares with Lendl. From 1990 to 2002, he appeared in eight US Open finals, tied with Lendl in the record books. He won five or more titles at two different majors, a mark shared with Borg and Federer. He was named the ATP Player of the Year six consecutive times (1993-1988). Those same years saw Sampras crowned International Tennis Federation World Champion. He played eight times for the U.S. Davis Cup team, winning the 1992 championship over Switzerland 3-1 and the 1995 title against Russia, 3-2.
There were no discernible weaknesses in Sampras’s game. His serve and volley skills were enough to propel him past most players, but as his game matured Sampras learned to rely less on his serve and became exceedingly equipped to play an all-court game. His forehand could be lethal, his return of serve improved, his backhand – both topspin and slice – became a dependable and powerful stroke, and his willingness to strategically orchestrate points made him a rock-solid opponent to defeat. “That’s the sign of a champion,” McEnroe said about Sampras. “He has almost all the shots, and he’s worked hard. He’s capable of doing anything.”
On its July 14, 1997 cover, Sports Illustrated featured a leaping Sampras ready to unleash a thumping overhead with the headline, “An American Classic.” In 2005, TENNIS Magazine named him the greatest player from 1995-2005 in the magazine’s 40 Greatest Players of the TENNIS Era issue.
“After I went through two years of not winning an event, what kept me going was winning one more major,” Sampras said. “Once I won that last US Open, I spent the next six months trying to figure out what was next. Slowly my passion for the sport just vanished. I had nothing left to prove.”
What Sampras left behind was an indelible mark as a champion who played his best when the stakes were greatest. A gracious, workmanlike champion who has his name threaded throughout the history books, Sampras earned $43,280, 489 million in prize money, and his place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Australian Open: W 1994, 1997
French Open: SF 1996
Wimbledon: W 1993, 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
US Open: W 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, 2002