When I initially sat down to write this column, I must admit that I was agonized with making the decision of selecting the greatest male tennis player of all-time after narrowing the field down to my final three candidates.
The more I thought about it, the more my “Spidey Senses” kept zeroing in on the name of Pete Sampras. Okay, okay, I don’t have any Spiderman-related supernatural abilities – I came up with my decision the old-fashioned way – through sheer desperation.
Feeble attempts at humor aside, I genuinely think that Sampras is the greatest tennis player to ever live – although I must admit, it was an extremely tough call.
However, in the end, Sampras’ longevity – and record-setting career, were enough to sway me towards selecting him and not another tennis legend.
Not only did Sampras win a record, 14 Grand Slam men’s singles titles, but he also finished the year ranked No. 1 for a record, six consecutive years.
Sampras won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon – the world’s most reknowned tennis tournament – a record seven times. In addition, Sampras also won the US Open five times and the Australian Open twice. Yes, I know he never won the French Open – a point some of his detractors like to harp on – but for me, his dominance in the other Grand Slam tournaments was too overwhelming for me to deny him the title of the world’s greatest tennis player of all-time.
Born in Washington, D.C. Sampras, was already a tennis prodigy by the time he turned professional in 1988 at the age of 17. He won his first top-level singles title in February 1990 in my hometown of Philadelphia and in August of that year, Sampras incredibly captured his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open by defeating another tennis legend, Ivan Lendl, in the quarterfinals and my favorite male player of allitme, John McEnroe, in the semifinals, to set up a final showdown with another up-and-coming American player, Andre Agassi.
Sampras went on to beat Agassi in straight sets to become the U.S. Open’s youngest-ever male singles champion at the age of 19.
Although Sampras wouldn’t win another Grand Slam event until 1993, when he beat former number one player, Jim Courier, in the fianl at Wimbledon, he quickly followed that win with another Grand slam title, by capturing his second U.S. Open title only months later. He finished the year as the No. 1 player and also set a new ATP Tour record by becoming the first player to serve over 1000 aces in a season.
Sampras dominated Wimbledon – and a slew of overmatched players – for the rest of the decade following his breakthrough title in 1993. He won three consecutive titles from 1993-95 and an amazing four more consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1997-2000 to become the most successful male player in Wimbledon history. His win in 2000 also allowed him to break Roy Emerson’s record of 12 career Grand Slam men’s singles titles. Sampras also won back-to-back U.S. Open titles in 1995-96 and the Australian Open twice (1994 and 1997).
Sampras’ only real weakness was on clay courts, where the slow surface tended to negate his attacking, serve-and-volley game. His best performance at the French Open came in 1996, when he reached the semifinals. However, his failure to win that title is the one blemish on an otherwise impeccable career record.
In 2002, Sampras made an amazing comeback after appearing to have reached the twilight of is career by beating Agassi, whom he had met in his very first Grand Slam final 12 years earlier, at the US Open for his record, 14th Grand Slam title. The tournament was the last of Sampras’ career and he officially announced his retirement in August 2003 as the greatest male tennis player of all-time.
Here are Sampras’Grand Slam finals victories
Year Championship Opponent in Final Score in Final
1990 US Open Andre Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 6-2
1993 Wimbledon Jim Courier 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3
1993 US Open Cedric Pioline 6-4, 6-4, 6-3
1994 Australian Open Todd Martin 7-6, 6-4, 6-4
1994 Wimbledon Goran Ivanisevic 7-6, 7-6, 6-0
1995 Wimbledon Boris Becker 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2
1995 US Open Andre Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5
1996 US Open Michael Chang 6-1, 6-4, 7-6
1997 Australian Open Carlos Moya 6-2, 6-3, 6-3
1997 Wimbledon Cedric Pioline 6-4, 6-2, 6-4
1998 Wimbledon Goran Ivanesevic 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2
1999 Wimbledon Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 7-5
2000 Wimbledon Patrick Rafter 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2
2002 US Open Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4
Here are the records Sampras holds:
Sampras won a record 14 Grand Slam titles over his career.
He finished the year as No. 1 on the ATP Rankings for a record six years. He was also the only player to finish as No.1 for six consecutive years (1993-98).
He was No. 1 ranked player in the world for a record 286 weeks.
He was in the world top ten for 12 years; only Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi have stayed in the top ten for longer.
He finished his career with a record $43 million in career prize money.
He captured 64 titles over his career, which makes him fourth in the all time list of players with most career titles.
He won 11 ATP Masters Series titles, which places him second after Andre Agassi to win the most such tournaments (since 1990).
He appeared in at least one Grand Slam final for 11 consecutive years (1992-2002), winning in eight straight (1993-2000).
He and Ken Rosewall are the only men to win Grand Slam titles as a teenager, in their 20s, and in their 30s.
He won at least one title for 11 straight years (1990-2000) and 12 of 13 (except 2001).
He captured the ATP World Championship (now renamed the Tennis Masters Cup) a record five times in Germany (1991, 94, 96-97, 99). He shares this Open era record with Ivan Lendl.
He compiled a 19-9 career Davis Cup record (15-8 in singles) and member of winning teams in 1992 and 95.
He served a career-high 1,011 aces in 1993 to lead ATP circuit; also led in 1995 with 974 aces.
He won a career-high 10 titles and compiled a personal-best 29-match winning streak in 1994.
He won a career-best 85 matches in 1993 and on April 12th became the 11th player in the history of ATP rankings to reach the No. 1 spot.
He was the youngest US Open men’s champion at 19 years, 28 days in 1990.
He compiled a 40-2 match record on Centre Court at Wimbledon and 63-7 overall at All England Club.
He compiled a 762-222 record during his years on the circuit, winning more than 77% of all the matches he played in 15 years.