Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Pete Sampras, the Greatest of All Time
I got to see Sampras play in person for the first time, courtesy of Konica Minolta, at UCLA last night. It was a thrill, finally seeing the greatest tennis player of all time. Playing as the LA Tennis Open honoree, Sampras still looks capable of beating a lot of decent players as he displayed wondrous moments of the grace and power that he possessed in abundance in his prime. His 2002 US Open win over rival Andre Agassi is still one of the memorable moments in tennis history, for me. Having been given no chance, Sampras surprised the sports world, sealed his legacy and went out on top.
Sampras' 2 set exhibition and interviews afterward were quite revealing - while he didn't play his best, his competitiveness was still apparent. Twice he said that he had not played that well even when the moment was really about honoring his accomplishments and contributions to southern california tennis. He did make an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors however. Still, after losing the 1st set 6-4, he did come back and overwhelm Safin in the 2nd set 6-3. Momentum likely would have carried him through the 3rd set to victory.
Federer recently eclipsed Sampras's 14 Grand slam record at this year's Wimbledon. It is hard to say who really is better. Federer, like Sampras, does also have problems with clay courts but finally broke through this year at the French Open. However, Sampras outplayed all his rivals head to head and was clearly the dominant player of his era while Federer has a losing record vs his main rival Nadal (13-7) and likely only won the French Open because Nadal was out injured. Had Federer faced Sampras head to head in their primes, Federer might have had an issue with Sampras' serve and volley (a strategy left unmastered by players today). Perhaps the only opinion that has any validity is of the legend Rod Laver himself, who in May of this year chose Sampras over Federer as the greatest. However, if Federer continues to rack up Grand Slam titles, the argument may be moot soon enough.
For me, I will remember Sampras as the greatest player of all time. I've been fortunate to see Michael Jordan, Zinedine Zidane and Tiger Woods in person and now I've come full circle. It feels complete. (Unless of course they come up with a NFL legends game and Montana and Rice suit up again. haha.)