Plain winner
By Larry Schwartz
Special to

"To be criticized for (being dull), it really pissed me off. I'm puzzled by it. What do these people want? Do they want someone to act like a jerk out there?" says Pete Sampras on ESPN's SportsCentury show. Sampras won his record-tying 12th Grand Slam title after he was voted No. 48 among North American athletes of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel.

 Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras never wanted to be a celebrity, just a champion.

Sept. 9, 1990 -- Pete Sampras shows youth will be served. Or, in this case, it's that a brilliant serve can carry a 19-year-old to the U.S. Open championship. Against Andre Agassi, who recently had made a camera commercial noting that image is everything, Sampras shows reality is a well-placed serve at 120 miles per hour.

In becoming the youngest male U.S. Open champion, Sampras breezes to a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory for his first Grand Slam title. Sampras deals 13 aces, belts another 12 service winners, has only one double fault and loses just 17 points in 13 service games. He never allows Agassi to even reach deuce on his serve. "I've got a heater and a changeup," says Sampras.

Agassi says, "It was a good, old-fashioned street mugging. I got my butt kicked."

Sampras hits 27 winners while Agassi has just 10. Approaching the net 62 times -- compared to seven for Agassi -- Sampras wins 39 points.

Sampras, who had been No. 81 in the world when the year started, rises to No. 6 with the victory. Sports Illustrated puts him on its cover with the headline, "A Star Is Born."


Sampras' first match against Agassi came when Sampras was nine and Agassi 10 at a tournament in California. They were both small for their age and Sampras recalls that Agassi toyed with him, using a lot of trick shots. "He was kind of a hot dog," Sampras recalls.

Sampras was taught to keep his emotions in check. Growing up, whenever he and his parents saw John McEnroe on TV throw one of his tantrums, Sampras was embarrassed.

Only Willie Renshaw, with seven Wimbledon titles in the 19th century, has more championships than Sampras (6).

Sampras' record at the majors going into 1999 was 153-27 (.850). He was 34-6 at the Australian Open, 22-9 at the French Open, 45-5 at Wimbledon and 52-7 at the U.S. Open.

Three-time Wimbledon champ Boris Becker on Sampras: "He was always the most complete player. He has the power, he has the speed, he has the touch. He is the best player ever."

At the funeral of Tim Gullikson, his coach, in 1996, a weeping Sampras presented his first Wimbledon trophy to the coach's family. He tried to give a eulogy, but broke down.

Sampras has won the most tournaments this decade. He was 56-17 in finals heading into 1999.

His record from 1993-98 was 415-84 (.832), including 43-11 (.796) in finals.

His favorite book is "The Catcher in the Rye" by J.D. Salinger. "I thought Holden Caulfield was pretty cool," Sampras says. His favorite line from the book: "Don't ever tell anybody anything."

In "Tennis" magazine in 1995, Sampras listed SportsCenter as his addiction.

He is coached by Paul Annacone, who reached a career-high No. 12 in1986. Annacone took over when Tim Gullikson became ill in January 1995.

Minutes after Sampras vomited in winning his 1996 U.S. Open quarterfinal match against Alex Corretja, McEnroe told Sampras' then girlfriend, Delaina Mulcahy, "I don't have that much guts."

His record in Davis Cup matches is 13-6 in singles and 3-1 in doubles.

Dr. Pete Fischer, a pediatrician who was Sampras' coach as a youngster, pleaded guilty of sexual molestation charges in 1997 in California. Sampras says he never saw a hint of unseemly behavior from Fischer during his nine years with him.

A final word from Sampras: "I never wanted to be the great guy or the colorful guy or the interesting guy. I wanted to be the guy who won titles."