Pete Sampras is affable, intelligent and above all, a winner. He owns 14 career tennis Grand Slam titles. He is married to a beautiful actress. With those credentials, he should be on billboards, in commercials, part of the American sports mystique. So why is "dull" the most common word used to describe Sampras and why do all of those people close to him laugh at that description? BEYOND THE GLORY: PETE SAMPRAS answers those questions and takes a look back on the marvelous career of men's tennis all-time biggest winner. This episode of the award-winning series airs on Sun., July 25 at 8:00 PM local.
Sampras was a natural on the court. Before other kids had enough coordination to hit a ball off a tee, Sampras was chasing shots around the court, returning volleys with older players, using quick hands and quicker feet to wow coaches. Growing up in Palos Verdes, California, Sampras didn't have much of a social life. He went from home to school to tennis courts, playing in junior tournaments on the weekends. The expenses started to mount, but his parents cut out coupons and stretched every dollar so Sampras could continue his tennis aspirations.
Good investment. At age 16, Sampras turned pro, and a year later he dropped out of high school to pursue his career full time. In 1990, at age 19, Sampras became the youngest man to ever win the U.S. Open singles title.
He had sudden fame and recognition. And with that came pressure. Sampras was ready for neither. His game and confidence took a hit and for two years, Sampras didn't play up to the level he knew he could.
Sampras turned to Tim Gullikson to be his new coach. Gullikson not only improved Sampras' game and his mental approach, but became Sampras' best friend. Together, they put Sampras on a string of victories, propelling him to what would be an unprecedented six straight years at No. 1
Sampras was winning, but he was getting crushed in the media. He was a drone. He was boring. He was a great player who nobody wanted to watch. Meanwhile, another young player, Andre Agassi, became the poster boy for men's tennis, even as he was roundly falling to Sampras in their matches.
The media agenda didn't suit Sampras: "We live in a day and age where you can't just be a great football player, tennis player, whatever. You need to be more. You need to be outspoken, you need to say controversial things," said Sampras. "You need to act like a lunatic."
He refused to buy into that, costing himself millions of dollars in advertisements and commercial income. But none of that mattered to Sampras. His friends knew his humor and loved being around him. All that he cared about was winning more major championships than any other player in history. He accomplished that in 2000, winning Wimbledon for his record-setting 13th Grand Slam title and extended the mark in 2002, defeating Agassi in the finals of the U.S. Open.
He was a scrawny kid from California, determined to be the best. And in the age of media hype, Pete Sampras quietly became the greatest tennis player in the history of the game.
Those interviewed in addition to Pete Sampras include: sisters Stella Sampras-Webster and Marion Hodges, wife Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, former tennis players Michael Chang and Jim Courier, former coaches Tom Gullikson and Paul Annecone.
Quotes from BTG: PETE SAMPRAS
Pete Sampras: "I'd wake up every morning and I was like, what am I going to do today to get better?"
Sampras (after becoming the youngest man to win the U.S. Open): "I was all of a sudden recognized around the world. There was instant pressure on me to do well and knowing deep down that I wasn't quite good enough at that stage to win another major."
Bridgette Wilson-Sampras: "He wasn't into setting trends. He was into setting records."
Stella Sampras-Webster: "Even from the beginning, because of the quickness of his hands, he could hit shots that he was even surprised he could hit."
Jim Courier: "He's certainly the greatest tennis player of our era."
Courier: "He played in the wrong era. Pete's a Joe DiMaggio for tennis. He's a guy who always believed in letting his racket do the talking for him and was miffed by the fact that as loud as his racket spoke, it wasn't enough for today's soundbite MTV media."
Upcoming episodes of Beyond the Glory: Aug. 1, "Sugar" Ray Leonard; Aug. 8, Carl Lewis.