Tennis legend bows out gracefully

Philip Consuegra

Pete Sampras has always been heralded as the champ who never showed emotion. The occasional fist pump was all you ever saw of Sampras’ feelings, unlike the crowd-pleasing Andre Agassi or the fiery personality of America’s newest sensation, Andy Roddick.

So when Sampras took to the U.S. Open court one last time to say goodbye last Sept. 11 at the Open, we expected the same demeanor that we had come to love over the past 15 years. What we saw was something more special: a champion, never known for his emotion, driven to tears as the crowd showed their love for the greatest player ever to play the game.

A selfless speech, a look of appreciation and the journey to a new life for Pete Sampras made everyone present and watching on television a little emotional. Sampras has entertained us for years; from his battles with Andre Agassi to his seven titles at Wimbledon, he wowed us with his power and floored us with his skill. His gracefulness was unlike any other, and his life-long accomplishments may never be met by anyone ever again.

It wasn’t just Sampras’ attitude that made us appreciate his tennis; it was his utter dominance of the sport. His powerful serve, gorgeous volleys, impeccable placement and trademark jumping overhead all contributed to this champion’s legacy and his popularity among tennis player everywhere. He was more than just a champion – he was the one who inspired those amateur tries at aces, power and jumping overheads during local tennis matches by all your friends. Everyone who has played tennis has wanted to be Pete Sampras at one time or another.

Without the dynamics of Agassi or the mouth of John McEnroe, Sampras catapulted to the top spot in tennis with something more important that attitude: game. Sampras was living proof that the best talker not always wins the match. He embodied the true meaning of tennis with his class, sophistication and sportsmanship.

The “young guns” of American tennis, Andy Roddick, James Blake and Mardy Fish, have a lot to live up to. Sampras’ legacy has left a mark on tennis, one that will not soon be forgotten. These youngsters should watch tapes and film on how Pete Sampras won. Not with flashy endorsement deals, commercials or who he dated, but with the one thing that counts: a love for the game with the added zeal for winning.

If more athletes today followed the lead of Pete Sampras, the professional sports world would be much, much more respected. While athletes like Shaq and Warren Sapp are left to eat crow when they lose, Sampras never had to experience the taste, since he never talked the trash they did. While mastering the trade of trash talk, those athletes also mastered the art of eating their own words. In other words, Sampras held the respect of the fans and of his fellow athletes.

Pete Sampras will be missed. His serves, his volleys, and his punishing overheads will never be forgotten. He truly is the greatest champion to ever play the game. Long live King Pete.