Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras Biography.com

Tennis Player(1971–)
One of the greatest tennis players of all time, Pete Sampras established records with his 14 Grand Slam championships and seven Wimbledon titles.

Synopsis

Tennis legend Pete Sampras was born in Maryland to Greek immigrants in 1971. He showed exceptional athletic ability at an early age and turned professional when he was 16. A five-time U.S. Open winner and seven-time Wimbledon champion, he dominated the sport for most of the 1990s.

Early Years

Widely considered one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Pete Sampras was born August 12, 1971, in Potomac, Maryland. His parents, Sam and Georgia Sampras, were both Greek immigrants who embraced their son's early passion for athletics.

Sampras first began playing tennis at the age of 7, shortly after he moved with his family to Southern California. Training under an amateur coach, Sampras soared to the upper echelon of the American junior circuit.

At the age of 14, Sampras radically altered his game. Scrapping his familiar baseline play, Sampras, who idolized Rod Laver, moved to become a serve-and-volley player. The approach proved frustrating initially, but would ultimately help him dominate Grand Slam tournaments such as Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the illustrious career to come. 

Early Professional Success

In 1988, Sampras turned professional. He arrived on the pro circuit at the same time as several other talented young American players, including Michael Chang, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, who secured the country's dominance of the men's side of the sport for much of the 1990s.

High hopes certainly accompanied Sampras's young career, but few, perhaps even the player himself, could have expected success so soon. In 1990, the 19-year-old powered his way through the U.S. Open, defeating Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe on his way to the final. There, in a showdown of America's young guns, Sampras beat Agassi in straight sets to become the tournament's youngest-ever champion.

Tennis Dominance

Sampras's next Grand Slam victory came in 1993, when he captured his first Wimbledon title after defeating the top-ranked Jim Courier. From there, Sampras, who decimated opponents with a powerful first serve, dominated the sport. He furthered his Wimbledon success that same year at New York City's Flushing Meadows, capturing the U.S. Open's singles title for his second time. The following winter, he won the Australian Open.

For six straight years, between 1993 and 1998, Sampras was named the ATP Player of the Year. His success was most pronounced at Wimbledon, where he won an Open era–record seven singles titles (later tied by Roger Federer), including four consecutive championships from 1997 to 2000. 

Sampras's reign over his sport was accompanied by a quiet, matter-of-fact approach to the game. However, this lack of color or wild exuberance hurt his standing with some fans, who gravitated toward the more charismatic Andre Agassi.  

"He was always the argument you couldn't win," wrote one Sports Illustrated writer not long after Sampras's retirement in 2003. "Tennis purists loved his skill, naturally, and they will unhesitatingly declare Sampras's second serve, his running forehand and his leaping overhead as treasures that belong under museum glass. But for a public that didn't grow up playing, tennis becomes charismatic only when rackets are flying or fists are pumping or new ground in fashion is being broken."

Sampras, of course, offered none of the latter. Instead, he quietly and efficiently rose to become one of the game's all-time greats. In 2000, he came from one set down to defeat Patrick Rafter at Wimbledon to win the singles title and move past Roy Emerson as the sport's greatest winner with 13 major titles. In 2002, he capped his career with a 14th Grand Slam victory (eventually topped by Federer) when he defeated Agassi in dramatic fashion in the final of the U.S. Open.

The win not only ended a two-year Grand Slam drought for Sampras but, at age 31, made him the oldest Open champion since 1970. Deciding to go out on top, Sampras made the tournament the last official tennis match of his career.

Champions Tour and Personal Life

In 2007, four years after his retirement, Sampras was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. 

In 2008, after several years of staying home with his family, he began playing on the ATP Champions Tour, winning his first title that same year. In addition, Sampras published his autobiography, A Champion's Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis.

Sampras lives in California with his wife, Bridgette, and their two boys, Christian and Ryan.

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