Pete Sampras (born August 12, 1971) is an American former professional tennis player. A right-handed player with a single-handed backhand, his precise and powerful serve earned him the nickname “Pistol Pete”. His professional career began in 1988 and ended at the 2002 US Open, which he won, defeating rival Andre Agassi in the final.
Sampras won 14 Grand Slam singles titles during his career: seven Wimbledon Singles titles, two Australian Opens and a joint Open Era record five US Opens. He won 64 singles titles in total. He first reached world No. 1 in 1993, and held that position for a total of 286 weeks (second behind Roger Federer 310 weeks as No. 1 player), including an Open Era record of six consecutive year-end No. 1 rankings from 1993 to 1998. In 2007, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Professional career
- 2.1 1988: Turning professional
- 2.2 1989: First Grand Slam match wins
- 2.3 1990: First major title at the U.S. Open
- 2.4 1991: Year-end Championship title
- 2.5 1992: First Masters title
- 2.6 1993: Wimbledon and US Open titles, world No. 1
- 2.7 1994: Australian Open and Wimbledon title
- 2.8 1995: Wimbledon and US Open titles, world No. 1
- 2.9 1996: US Open title and only Wimbledon loss in an 8-year period
- 2.10 1997: Australian Open and Wimbledon titles
- 2.11 1998: Wimbledon title
- 2.12 1999: Wimbledon Year-end titles
- 2.13 2000: 13 majors and return to No. 1
- 2.14 2001: No singles title and drop in ranking
- 2.15 2002: 14th major and retirement
- 2.16 Career summary
- 3 Post-retirement activity
- 4 Rivalries
- 5 Playing style
- 6 Personal life
- 7 Career statistics
- 8 Legacy
- 9 Records and achievements
- 10 Other awards
- 11 See also
- 12 Notes
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 Video
- 16 External links
Petros “Pete” Sampras was born in Washington, D.C., the third child of Soterios “Sammy” and Georgia (ne Vroustouris) Sampras. His mother emigrated from Sparta, Greece, and his father was born in the United States to a Greek father, Costas “Gus” Sampras and a Jewish mother, Sarah Steinberg. He attended regular services of the Greek Orthodox Church on Sundays. At the age of 3, he discovered a tennis racket 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 the seven-year-old Sampras to play tennis throughout most of the year. From early on, his great idol was Rod Laver, and at the age of 11, Sampras met and played tennis with the legend. The Sampras family joined the Jack Kramer Club, and it was here that Sampras’s talent became apparent. As a teenager, Sampras trained with tennis coach Robert Lansdorp. The forehand he learned from Lansdorp was the same forehand he used throughout his career. The key was an emphasis on driving through the ball and not hitting extreme topspin. He was spotted by Dr. Peter Fischer, a pediatrician and tennis enthusiast, who coached Sampras until 1989. Fischer was responsible for converting Sampras’s double-handed backhand to single-hand with the goal of being better prepared to win Wimbledon.
1988: Turning professional
Sampras turned professional in 1988, at the age of 16, and finished the year ranked world No. 97 after starting the year at No. 893. His first professional match was a loss to Sammy Giammalva, Jr. at the February Ebel U.S. Pro Indoor in Philadelphia. However, just one week later, at the Lipton International Players Championships in Miami, Sampras defeated two top-40 players, before losing to No. 18 Emilio Snchez. Sampras did not defeat another top-40 player for almost six months, at which point he defeated 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 No. 69 Jaime Yzaga of Peru in the first round of the US Open. Sampras did not advance past the quarterfinals in his next three tournaments, although he did record wins over No. 79 Jim Courier in their first career match-up, along with defeating No. 8 Tim Mayotte.
1989: First Grand Slam match wins
The following year, Sampras slightly improved his ranking to a year-ending No. 81. He lost in the first round of the 1989 Australian Open to Christian Saceanu and, at that year’s French Open, won a Grand Slam singles match for the first time in his career; in the second round he lost to eventual champion and fellow American teenager Michael Chang in their first career match-up. A few weeks later, Sampras lost in the first round of Wimbledon to Todd Woodbridge. At the US Open, Sampras defeated defending champion and fifth-seeded Mats Wilander in the second round before losing to No. 13 Jay Berger in the fourth round. To end the year, Sampras lost in the first round in four consecutive tournaments.
1990: First major title at the U.S. Open
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 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 Andrs Gmez in the final. This title elevated his ranking into the top 20 for the first time. Sampras finished 1990 at No. 5, having started the year ranked No. 61 just prior to the start of the Australian Open.
Sampras did not play in the 1990 French Open and again lost in the first round of Wimbledon, this time to Christo van Rensburg. 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 No. 2 Stefan Edberg. He did not advance past the quarterfinals in his next three tournaments, losing to Chang, Richey Reneberg, and Goran Ivanievi.
In September, Sampras 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. He played five more tournaments and won the Grand Slam Cup to complete his year.
1991: Year-end Championship title
In 1991, Sampras 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.
1992: First Masters title
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. He also played doubles with John McEnroe on the US team that won the Davis Cup, duplicating the feat in 1995.
1992 was also the year when Sampras made his only competitive appearance at the Olympics. The event was played on clay, his worst surface. Nonetheless, Sampras advanced to the third round before giving up a two-set lead and losing to Andrei Cherkasov of Russia.
1993: Wimbledon and US Open titles, world No. 1
Sampras reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in early 1993, losing again to Stefan Edberg and matching the previous year’s quarterfinal performance at the French Open. In April 1993, Sampras attained the No. 1 ranking for the first time. His rise to the top of the rankings was controversial because he had not recently won any Grand Slam titles, but he justified his ranking three months later by claiming his first of seven Wimbledon titles, beating former world No. 1 and fellow American 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.
1994: Australian Open and Wimbledon title
Sampras won the first of two Australian Open titles in 1994, defeating American Todd Martin in the final, and then defended his Wimbledon later that year.
1995: Wimbledon and US Open titles, world No. 1
In 1995, Sampras battled with co-patriot Andre Agassi for the world No. 1 ranking. Sampras experienced one of the most emotional matches of his career, when he played Courier in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. Sampras’ longtime coach and close friend, Tim Gullikson, had mysteriously collapsed during the tournament and was forced to return to the United States. Gullikson was later diagnosed with brain cancer, to which he succumbed the following year. Saddened by Gullikson’s illness, Sampras began visibly weeping during the match when a spectator shouted to win it for Gullikson, but managed to defeat Courier. Sampras went on to lose the final to Andre Agassi in four sets. Paul Annacone took over as Sampras’ full-time coach after Gullikson’s illness made it impossible for him to continue coaching.
Sampras defeated Agassi in the final at Indian Wells, and then won his third straight Wimbledon title over Boris Becker. Sampras lost in the final of the Canadian Masters to Agassi, and then beat Agassi in the final of the US Open.
1996: US Open title and only Wimbledon loss in an 8-year period
In the year’s first major, the Australian Open, the top-seeded Sampras lost to the unseeded Mark Philippoussis 6-4, 7-6(11-9), 7-6(7-3) in the tournament’s third round. Sampras had what would end up being his best run ever at that year’s French Open, losing in a semifinal match to the eventual winner, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 7-6(7-4), 6-0, 6-2.
In the eight Wimbledons inclusive between 1993 and 2000, 1996 was the only year that Sampras would fail to win the championship at Wimbledon. Sampras lost in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon to the eventual winner, Richard Krajicek, the tournament’s 17th-seed. The match lasted three long sets, with Krajicek winning 7-5, 7-6(7-3), 6-4.
In the quarterfinals of the US Open, Sampras vomited on the court at 1-1 in the final set tiebreak (due to dehydration) while facing lex Corretja; nonetheless, Sampras would win that match. Sampras advanced to the finals where he defeated No. 2 Michael Chang to defend his US Open title.
Sampras finished off the year by claiming the season-ending ATP Tour World Championship.
1997: Australian Open and Wimbledon titles
Sampras won his second Australian Open title in January, defeating Carlos Moy in the final. In July, he won Wimbledon for the fourth time, defeating Cdric Pioline in the final. Sampras also won singles titles in San Jose, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Munich, and Paris, and the ATP Tour World Championships in Hanover, 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 No. 1 ranking for the entire year and joined Jimmy Connors (1974-1978) as the only male players to hold the year-end No. 1 ranking for five consecutive years. His prize money earnings of US$6,498,211 for the year was a career high.
1998: Wimbledon title
In 1998, Sampras’s No. 1 ranking was challenged by Chilean player Marcelo Ros. Sampras failed to defend his Australian Open title, losing in the quarterfinals to Karol Kuera, and won Wimbledon only after a hard-fought five-set victory over Goran Ivanievi.
Sampras lost in the final of the Cincinnati Masters to Patrick Rafter after a controversial line call. Sampras faced Rafter again in the semifinals of the US Open, losing in five sets after leading the match two sets to one, and Rafter went on to win his second consecutive US Open title. Sampras lost another semifinal at the Tennis Masters Cup to eventual champion lex Corretja. Nevertheless, Sampras finished the year as the top-ranked player for the sixth year in a row.
1999: Wimbledon Year-end titles
The year started with a withdrawal from the Australian Open and Sampras 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 (a rematch of last year’s final with Patrick Rafter). Sampras’ victory over Andre Agassi in the Wimbledon final is often cited as one of the greatest performances in a Wimbledon final, (despite this, he lost his no. 1 ranking to Agassi the following day, when ATP Tour rankings were updated). 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’ 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 Agassi, putting an end to Sampras’ six consecutive years of finishing as 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 remain third in the rankings.
2000: 13 majors and return to No. 1
Sampras reached the semifinals of the Australian Open in early 2000, falling to the eventual champion Agassi in a five-set match. He won the Ericsson Open for the third time in March. After getting knocked out in the first round at the French Open, he won his seventh and final title at Wimbledon, battling through tendinitis in his right shin and a painful back injury in the process equalling the then all time gentleman’s singles title record of William Renshaw. This was his monumental 13th Grand Slam singles title, breaking the all-time record of Roy Emerson that had stood for over 30 years.
In the 2000 US Open, Sampras overcame Richard Krajicek in four sets at the quarterfinals (including a comeback from 2-6 down in a tiebreaker) but lost the final to Marat Safin. Sampras’ run to the final briefly returned him to the No. 1 ranking, but Gustavo Kuerten ended the year atop the rankings. This would be the last time Sampras was ranked No. 1, extending his ATP record career total to 286 weeks; the record was surpassed by Roger Federer in 2012.
2001: No singles title and drop in ranking
Sampras’ 31-match Wimbledon win streak ended in a five set loss to Roger Federer, aged 19, in the fourth round; this was the only time the two tennis legends ever played an official professional match. At the US Open, Sampras reached the final but lost in straight sets to Lleyton Hewitt. Overall, this season was the first in 12 years that Sampras did not win a single title, and he finished the year ranked No. 10, also his lowest since 1989.
2002: 14th major and retirement
In 2002, Sampras suffered an early exit from Wimbledon, losing in the second round to No. 145 fast-court specialist George Bastl of Switzerland. After that loss, Sampras asked his former coach Paul Annacone to return and coach through the US Open. Sampras had a relatively poor summer leading up to the US Open, losing at Cincinnati to No. 70-ranked Wayne Arthurs in the second round, and then being eliminated at the opening round at Long Island by No. 85. Paul-Henri Mathieu.
At the US Open, Sampras was seeded 17th. 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 stars, 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‘ Open Era record of five US Open singles championships.
Sampras did not compete in any tour events in the following 12 months, but he 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. At the time of his retirement, many regarded Sampras as the greatest player of all time.
Sampras won 64 top-level singles titles (including 14 Grand Slam titles, 11 Super 9/ATP Masters Series/ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles and five Tennis Masters Cup titles) and two doubles titles. He was ranked the world No. 1 for a total of 286 weeks (the second most of all-time after Roger Federer’s 310 weeks) and was year-end No. 1 for an ATP record six consecutive years from 1993 through 1998.
Sampras was known for his natural attacking serve-and-volley game, all-round game, and strong competitive instinct. Sampras’s best surface was undoubtedly the fast-playing grass courts, Sampras won seven Wimbledon Gentleman’s Singles titles (1993-95, 1997-2000), broken only by a loss in the 1996 quarterfinals to eventual winner Richard Krajicek. Sampras’s seven Wimbledon Gentleman’s Singles titles, tied with William Renshaw, has only been surpassed by Roger Federer who won a record eighth Gentleman’s Singles title in 2017. Sampras is lauded by many tennis analysts as one of the greatest male grass-court players of all time. Sampras also shares the record of five US Open titles in the Open Era with Jimmy Connors and Federer. He won back-to-back US Open titles in 1995 and 1996, despite vomiting on the court at 1-1 in the final set tiebreak due to dehydration in the 1996 quarterfinals against lex Corretja. Combined with his two Australian Open titles, this gave Sampras a total of fourteen majors won on grass and hard courts.
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 Kitzbhel, 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 style and demeanor influenced future generations according to opponent Sammy Giammalva, as he stated in the book “Facing Sampras”: I think Pete transformed – in a subtle, silent way – the attitude of the game and the attitude of the best players, said Giammalva who played Pete in Philadelphia.
On April 6, 2006, three and a 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 in two sets. Sampras later announced 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. 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). Many observers noted that despite his lengthy layoff from competitive tournaments, Sampras still possessed many of the previous skills he had displayed while on the ATP tour, with commentator John McEnroe going as far as to say that Sampras would be worthy of a top five seeding at Wimbledon were he to enter the tournament.
On November 20, 2007, Sampras lost the first of three exhibition matches in Asia against Roger Federer in Seoul, Korea. Two days later in Kuala Lumpur, Sampras again lost to Federer in two tiebreaks. However, Sampras was able to win the last match of the series, winning in two sets on fast carpet.
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.
Sampras was present at the 2009 Wimbledon final between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer to witness Federer eclipse his mark of 14 major titles and become the most successful man in Grand Slam history. Sampras’s record of 14 majors had lasted for seven years.
The following year along with Federer, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal, he played an exhibition doubles match at Indian Wells to raise money for the people of Haiti who had been affected by the earthquake.
In November 2010 Sampras reported that many of his trophies and memorabilia had been stolen from a West Los Angeles public storage facility. The loss included the trophy from his first Australian Open victory, two Davis Cups, an Olympic ring and six trophies for finishing top in the year-end rankings. Most of the stolen items have since been recovered and returned.
Sampras vs. Agassi
The rivalry has been called the greatest of the generation of players competing in the 90’s, as they were the most successful players of that decade, and had a contrasting playing style, with both Sampras and Agassi being respectively considered the greatest server and the greatest serve returner of their eras. Sampras won 20 of the 34 matches he played against Agassi.
The 1990 US Open was their first meeting in a Grand Slam tournament final. Agassi was favored because he was ranked No. 4, compared to the 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.
Their next meeting in a Grand Slam was at the 1992 French Open, where they met in the quarterfinals. Although Sampras was higher ranked, Agassi prevailed in straight sets. Their next Grand Slam meeting was at the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1993, where Agassi was the defending champion and Sampras was the newly minted No. 1. Sampras prevailed in five sets, and went on to win his first Wimbledon championship.
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 No. 1 ranking to Agassi when injury forced Sampras to withdraw from that year’s US Open, which Agassi went on to win. 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 No. 3 Sampras in the semifinals of the Australian Open in five sets.
In arguably their most memorable match, Sampras defeated Agassi in the 2001 US Open quarterfinals 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6. 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 was also notable because they had defeated several up-and-coming players en route to the final. Sampras had defeated No. 3 Tommy Haas in the fourth round and future No. 1 Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, while Agassi had defeated No. 1 and defending champion Lleyton Hewitt in the semifinals. Sampras defeated Agassi in four sets. This was the final ATP tour singles match of Sampras’s career.
Sampras vs. Rafter
In 1997, Rafter won the US Open, a tournament that many expected Sampras to win, having won in 1995 and 1996. The win catapulted Rafter to the year-end no. 2 rankings behind Sampras. Seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe believed Rafter to be a “one-slam wonder”, since it was only his second career ATP title. Up to that point, Sampras was 5-1 against Rafter, and defeated Rafter three times in fall 1997 to solidify his No. 1 ATP ranking. “We’re not the best of mates,” Rafter said of Sampras after 1997 Davis Cup semifinals, “I wouldn’t go out for a beer with him, put it that way. I don’t know what the story is. There’s a bit of feeling.”
In 1998, Rafter came back from a set down to defeat Sampras in the Cincinnati Masters final, a title that Sampras needed to win in order get the maximum ranking points to stay No. 1 ahead of Marcelo Ros. During that match, Rafter’s serve was called out, but the umpire overruled the call to give Rafter the ace and the Cincinnati title. Sampras was displeased, and stood at the baseline for several seconds, making the victorious Rafter wait at the net, and then refused to shake the umpire’s hand. Sampras, at the time winner of 11 Grand Slams, when asked about the difference between himself and Rafter, said “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. Rafter went on to win the Canadian Masters as well, earning the third seed at the 1998 US Open.
The two met in the semifinals of the 1998 US Open, where Sampras was slowed in the third set by a leg injury and called for a trainer, and Rafter broke Sampras twice in the deciding fifth set. Sampras’s loss denied him the chance to match two recordsJimmy Connors’ mark of five U.S. Open titles and Roy Emerson’s record of 12 Grand Slam singles titles. Sampras cited a leg injury as the reason Rafter won, an attitude that upset the Australian: “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 piss him off as much as I can.” Following Rafter’s 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”. For his part, Sampras said about Rafter, “When I see him holding the US Open trophy, it pisses me off.” Rafter responded by calling Sampras a cry baby and saying that it would be better for tennis if someone besides the American were No. 1. Some had suggested at the time that the Sampras-Rafter feud was inflamed by the media since Sampras’ traditional rival Andre Agassi was still in the midst of a comeback from injury.
Sampras, whose struggles from 1998 continued over to early 1999, lost a third consecutive time against Rafter at the World Team Cup, in straight sets, just before the French Open. By the summer of 1999 having rebuilt his confidence, en route to compiling a 24-match winning streak of four titles including Wimbledon, Sampras prevailed against Rafter in the Cincinnati Masters final, a rematch of the previous year’s final, and the two were friendly in the trophy ceremony. Later that summer, Sampras withdrew from the U.S. Open due to an injured back, while Rafter retired in the first round as a result of a torn rotator cuff.
The next Sampras-Rafter match was the 2000 Wimbledon final, after Rafter overcame Agassi in the semifinals, a four-set final which included a 26-minute rain delay. Both players had flown in their parents for the Wimbledon final, the first time in years they would see their sons play. Sampras lost the first-set tiebreaker, and trailed in the second-set tiebreaker 1-4 before taking 5 consecutive points to win that set, then won the third and fourth sets for the Championship, with just 10 minutes of daylight left. That victory gave Sampras his 13th Grand Slam title, breaking the record of 12 by Roy Emerson for the most Grand Slam titles. After the match ended, Sampras called Rafter all class, on and off the court, while Rafter said he was lucky to overcome early season injuries to make the final.
Sampras and Rafter met in the fourth round of the 2001 US Open, with Sampras winning.
Sampras was an all-court player who would often serve and volley. Possessing an all-around skill, 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 or try to hit an offensive shot on the return and follow his return to the net.
He had an accurate and powerful first serve, one of the best of all time. He had great disguise on both his first and second serves, and his second serve was nearly as powerful as his first. He was known for producing aces on critical points, even with his second serves.
Sampras was able to hit winners from both his forehand and backhand from all over the court. He was able to catch attacks wide to his forehand using his speed and hitting a forehand shot on the run. When successfully executed, he won many points outright or put opponents immediately on the defensive, due to the considerable pace and flat nature of the shot. This style did not help him on clay courts, according to some critics.
Sampras used one racket type, the Wilson Pro Staff Original, for his entire professional careera 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 400 g, but the frame proper was a production model manufactured at a Wilson factory on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The handles were custom-built.
Post-retirement, Sampras has used a slightly modified Pro Staff Tour 90 and, from 2008, 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.
“I need a little more pop…I need it if I’m going to play some tennis,” he said after playing Gael Monfils in an exhibition at the SAP Open.
During a good part of 2011, Sampras used a racquet that was painted all black, with Tourna Grip and Tourna Damper.
In the late 1980s, Sampras signed a three-year endorsement contract with Sergio Tacchini. It was extended to five years before Sampras signed with Nike in 1994. He wore Nike apparel and Nike Air Oscillate footwear on court.
Sampras’s mother was born in Greece and his father was born in the United States to a Greek father and Jewish mother. His older sister, Stella Sampras Webster, is the women’s tennis head coach at UCLA, and his younger sister, Marion, is a teacher in Los Angeles. His older brother, Gus, has been tournament director at the Scottsdale ATP event. In 2007 he became president of the firm managing Pete’s business activities.
On September 30, 2000, Sampras married American actress and former Miss Teen USA Bridgette Wilson. On November 21, 2002, their son, Christian Charles Sampras, was born. On July 29, 2005, the couple had their second son, Ryan Nikolaos Sampras. They reside in Lake Sherwood, California.
A book titled Facing Sampras: Symposium of a Champion was published in December 2017.
Grand Slam performance timeline
Tournament198819891990199119921993199419951996199719981999200020012002SRW-LWinAustralian Open1R4RAASFWF3RWQFASF4R4R2 / 1145-983.33%French Open2RA2RQFQFQF1RSF3R2R2R1R2R1R0 / 1324-1364.86%Wimbledon1R1R2RSFWWWQFWWWW4R2R7 / 1463-790%US Open1R4RWQFFW4RWW4RSFAFFW5 / 1471-988.75%Win-Loss0-14-410-26-315-323-221-220-218-319-217-38-118-313-411-314 / 52203-3884.23%
Records and achievements
- These records were attained in Open Era of tennis.
- Records in bold indicate peer-less achievements.
Time spanSelected Grand Slam tournament recordsPlayers matched1995 Wimbledon
2000 US Open8 consecutive finals appearances won[a]Stands alone1992 US Open
2002 US Open11 consecutive years reaching 1+ finalIvan Lendl1989 Wimbledon
2002 Wimbledon90% (63-7) grass court match winning percentageStands alone1990 US Open
2002 US OpenWon a Grand Slam in teens, twenties and thirtiesRafael Nadal
Ken RosewallGrand Slam tournamentsTime SpanRecords at each Grand Slam tournamentPlayers matchedUS Open1990-20025 titles overallJimmy Connors
Roger Federer1990-20028 finals overallIvan Lendl
Novak Djokovic1988-200288.75% (71-9) match winning percentageStands alone1990Youngest US Open championTime spanOther selected recordsPlayers matched1993-19986 years finished at Year-End No. 1Stands alone1990, 19972 Grand Slam Cup titlesStands alone1990, 1992,
1997-19984 U.S. Pro Indoor titlesRod Laver
- ATP Player of the Year: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998.
- ITF World Champion: 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998.
- Sampras (1997-2000) won four consecutive Wimbledon singles titles, second only to Borg and Federer (who have five consecutive titles each).
- During the Open Era, only Borg (1978-81 French Open and 1976-80 Wimbledon), Sampras (1997-2000 Wimbledon), Federer (2003-07 Wimbledon and 2004-08 US Open), and Rafael Nadal (2005-08 French Open and 2010-2014 French Open) have won at least one Grand Slam tournament four consecutive times.
- Ken Rosewall, Sampras and Rafael Nadal are the only men to have won Grand Slam singles titles as a teenager, in their 20s, and in their 30s.
- Sampras won 40 of the 42 singles matches he played on Wimbledon’s Centre Court and 63 of the 70 singles matches he played at the All England Club.
- Sampras is the only player to win all seven Wimbledon finals he played. In terms of most finals won at a single Grand Slam tournament without losing any, he is third in the Open Era behind Novak Djokovic (who won all eight of his Australian Open finals) and Rafael Nadal (who won all twelve of his French Open finals)
Summary of professional awards.
- U.S. Olympic Committee “Sportsman of the Year” in 1997. He was the first tennis player to receive this award.
- GQ Magazine‘s Individual Athlete Award for Man of the Year in 2000.
- Selected the No. 1 player (of 25 players) in the past 25 years by a panel of 100 current and past players, journalists, and tournament directors to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ATP in 1997.
- Voted 48th athlete of Top 50 Greatest North American Athletes of ESPN‘s SportsCentury (also youngest on list).
- In 2005, TENNIS Magazine named Sampras the greatest tennis player for the period 1965 through 2005, from its list, “The 40 Greatest Players of the TENNIS Era”.