“I'm here to announce my retirement. It's been quite a process this past year. I know that the process is now over”. From August 25, 2003, Pete Sampras became a hundred percent retired.”I know that it's time” he said.
“I'm retiring And I'm content and I'm at peace with it. It's time to, you know, call it a career. Couldn't happen at a better place than here in New York where everything happened for me at 19, and it ended for me last year here”.
When he came to New York for the last time as a player, for the 2002 Us Open, Pistol Pete hadn't won a tournament for more than two years, but he pieced everything together. He started as the No.17 seed, a lucky number and an indication of how far he had fallen.
In a windy afternonn, amidst tricky conditions he started with an easy win. “I don't have much to prove here” he said after beating Albert Portas, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. “I want to do well and see what I can do, but I didn't feel any more pressure this year”.
The court, Sampras revealed, played a touch slower than the past and the crowd enthusiastically counted his ace. He looked younger and felt older, playing as a husband and soon to be a father. “I'm losing the matches that five years ago I used to find a way to win” Sampras admitted.
“Guys are using much more powerful racquets and it's made it a little bit more difficult. I'm always looking to come in, always looking to serve big and make something happen.” The 13-time completed another easy win and reinforced his aura of invincibility in night matches at Us Open bringing the win-loss record to 18-0.
“People are just a little more keen at night than you are during the day - at least I am. My body's awake, I feel pretty good out there. The energy's good. So it was a good night”. Next up was Greg Rusedski, the 1997 finalist, who heat beaten him just once i n nine previous encounters.
“I’m in the best shape of my life,” Rusedski said. “Obviously, it helps Pete a little bit. He’ll be favored so I have nothing to lose.” On Sundsy, they played just ten game. Sampras had the time to save a set point before the rain disrupted the day.
On Monday night, in a gorgeous third set tiebreak, a backhand return winner down the line excited the crowd. “It was a big, big point. That gave me a mini break, a double mini break, which was a big point. Finally hit a good couple returns there in the breaker” Sampras said after the match.
“It was more of, you know, the crowd got into it. Hit it good. Finally made one. It was a big point”. In the fifth, he tried to get more consistently behind the second serve. “I wanted to get in, period. I didn't want to hit too many passing shots.
He was chipping and charging on me. If I want to go out and play, it's going to be on my terms”. And he did it his way. Sampras powered past a frustrated Rusedski 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-4 in 3 hours 22 minutes. “I hung in there.
The crowd was great. It got me going at the end,” said Sampras, who had 81 winners and broke 1997 Open runner-up Rusedski’s serve in the final game of the match “He’s just not the same player,” Rusedski said.
“I lost the match. He didn’t win the match tonight. He’s not playing that great. I’ll be surprised if he wins his next match, to be honest with you. He’s a step and a half slow coming into the net”.
Against him, Sampras brilliantly replied, “I don't really need to be a step and a half quicker”. And nothing else matters. Seeded just 17th, Sampras had to play No. 3 Tommy Haas for a quarterfinal berth. In his first match, Haas was forced to change his sleeveless shirt.
“[It] is quite disappointing” he admitted. “I would love to play with it because if you watch me play, you know, you notice probably that I'm doing a lot of this stuff (pulling up his sleeves) with my sleeves.
It kind of bothers me. The word's gone around in the locker room, I think a lot of players are actually for it. They all think it should be allowed. Like I said before, times change and everything, you know?”. The times they were A-changing, but the modern beat the future for a glorious night.
A seet-soaked Sampras, exhausted in the end, celebrated his 200th Grand Slam career win. “Numbers don't really mean much” said Sampras who powered 27 aces in the match and conceded a single break point, in final game of the second set.
Haas, after three consecutive hardcourt successes over Pistol Pete, was two points away from taking the first set but his late double faults helped Sampras to complete a 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-5 victory, his 20th since the beginning of the season.
His quarterfinal match against the American next big thing Andy Roddick, at the opposite end of his career, offered a perfect generational clash to Sampras. He had decided to recall Paul Annacone as a coach. “It gives me some stability.
Paul knows me better than anyone as a tennis player. He knows what to say, what not to say. There's a lot of comfort there. It's really paid off quite well for me”. A year before, they had agreed to take a break from each other.
Having him back was a huge relief. “He knows what I'm going through. It's a little bit of confidence. A lot of it is mental. Not so much physical , forehands or backhands; it's my state of mind. Not getting down on myself.
He knows me. He knows it's not about forehands and backhands at this point in my tennis. It is very mental. He's been a big reason I have been able to get through this”. Whether it was mental or not, smacking aces at over 130 mph and brutally covering every inch of the net, Sampras looked like the younger man as he defeated Roddick 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the US Open semifinals for the eighth time.
His efficient and unlikely run continued with a 7-6(6), 7-6(4), 6-2 win over Dutchman Sjeng Schalken. For his last career final, history gave him the definite rival, Andre Agassi who tamed defending champion and world No.
1 Lleyton Hewitt. With the Williams sisters meeting in the women’s final, it marked the first time since 1979 that both men’s and women’s titles will be contested by Americans, just days ahead of the September 11 anniversary.
Agassi was chasing his third US Open crown, Sampras his first title of any kind in over two years, a streak that dated back 33 tournaments to Wimbledon 2000. For the fifth time Agassi and Sampras met to decide a Grand Slam title.
Sampras had won three of those four meetings, including the 1995 U.S. Open. “I couldn’t be more thrilled about it,” said Agassi, who never beat Sampras at Flushing Meadows. “This is less about what we pull out of each other tomorrow and more about a nice toast to the past.
It’s going to be a great day”. Walking on the court, Sampras said, “made me nervous, you know, just sitting there. The crowd was so electric. It made me kind of pumped up. The atmosphere was awesome, it really was”.
And he played extremely well when he had to. He started serving two aces in the opening game. I felt pretty good. Had a good warm-up. Serve was definitely clicking today. I felt it in the first couple service games, good rhythm.
And, you know, I was hitting it pretty accurate with a lot of speed and mixing it up well”. In front of a 23,000 excited crowd in the largest tennis stadium in the world, He smacked his serves at up to 212 kph, winning 69 of 105 net points.
Agassi ventured to the net just 13 times, but collected three more groundstoke winners, 19 to Sampras’ 16. “He started picking it up, especially his return of serve - he made me work real hard, then broke me.
I was still up a set, I still felt pretty good out there” Sampras admitted. I just hung in there, got through some tough games at 2-1, down a couple break points. 4-3 down a couple break points. Then picked it up there to serve it out.
It all happened pretty quick. But I was feeling it”. For the first two sets and a half, he offered an awesome tennis. Agassi finally was able to measure Sampras’ serve with some regularity in the third. “Pete is a good pressure-point player,” he said said.
“He senses the important times of the match and puts pressure on you and elevates his game.” Like he managed to do to hold in the fourth game of the fourth set. “It was a massive game” he admitted.
“The momentum definitely switched there in the third. The crowd was getting into it. He had a couple break points there. I managed to squeak it out. It was a huge turning point just to kind of hold on to serve there. I still felt like I was in it.
So there's some big points there I got through”. Then, in the ninth, everything changed to produce the most expected career-finale. “I had a couple break points. He had a couple good serves to my backhand. I chipped it short.
He's not gonna miss those shots. The one that I did convert I hit a good return deep and it kind of caught him off guard. I had it in my hands to serve it out. And 30-love, second serve, up the middle I hit an ace. That felt really good to win that”.
Sampras beat Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 to win his 114th Slam, his fifth Us Open. At 31, he became the Open’s oldest champion since 1970, when Australia’s Ken Rosewell claimed the title aged 35. In 1990, he had beaten Agassi to be the youngest Us Open titlit at 19.
Sampras trotted up the stairs of the stadium and sought out his wife, Bridgette, by his side by his side, from the 2000 Wimbledon, through the devastating low Sampras felt after losing in the second round at the All England Club a couple of months before his final triumph.
Their hug was, more than the victory, the cherry on the cake. Sampras called it a career with 64 titles: a champion for the ages. .