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Sampras announces retirement from tennis
( 2003-08-26 09:55) (Yahoo)

Pete Sampras kept saying it, over and over, almost as though he wanted to make sure it sounded right: "I'm done, 100 percent done."

Sampras delivers a farewell at US Open court with his son instead of a racket.
The owner of a record 14 Grand Slam singles titles delivered a formal farewell to tennis Monday in a news conference at the U.S. Open, not quite one year since he won the tournament in what turned out to be his final match.

He withdrew from event after event this season, but he never came out and said he would quit. Sampras made up his mind to stop for good around the time he decided not to play at Wimbledon.

"The process is now over. I'm 100 percent retired," Sampras said, his voice cracking. "I'm at peace with it. It's time to call it a career."

Sampras, who's 32 and became a father in November, leaves with 64 singles titles, including seven at Wimbledon, five at the U.S. Open, and two at the Australian Open.

"I will never sit here and say I'm the greatest ever. I've done what I've done in the game. I've won a number of majors ! I think that's kind of the answer to everything," said Sampras, wearing a black suit and gray shirt on the first day of this year's U.S. Open.

"I don't know if there's one best player of all time. I feel my game will match up to just about anybody. I played perfect tennis at times, in my mind."

The only gap on an otherwise impeccable record was never winning the French Open, the only major played on clay, a slower surface not conducive to his serve-and-volley style. Sampras' best showing at Roland Garros was reaching the 1996 semifinals.

"It's a disappointment not winning in Paris, but I don't think about it much," Sampras said.

He finished at No. 1 in the rankings a record six years (1993-98) and held the top spot a total of 286 weeks, another record. Sampras tops the career earnings list with $43 million.

"Staying at No. 1 for six consecutive years is an incredibly demanding thing," said Jim Courier, a rival of Sampras' in the 1990s and now a TV analyst. "He was able to stay healthy and stay hungry and continue to win at a very competitive time. He was playing against some tremendous all-time champions and still dominating."

Sampras touched on a number of topics Monday, including his vanishing style of play ("The serve-and-volley game is pretty much gone today. I do worry about it."); his most disappointing moment (losing in the second round of Wimbledon last year); his loss to Stefan Edberg in the 1992 U.S. Open final ("It made me hate to lose. I just became obsessed with being the best."); and becoming detached from tennis ("I don't watch any. To shut it out has been nice. It's been so consuming to my life for so many years.").

Sampras forever will be associated with Wimbledon, where his skills translated perfectly to grass, and where he went 56-1 while winning seven titles in eight years.

Still, the National Tennis Center made a perfect setting for his goodbye: He won his first and last major titles at the U.S. Open. In 1990, Sampras beat Agassi in the final to become, at 19, the youngest champion in tournament history. Last year, he beat ! guess who? ! Agassi to become, at 31, the oldest Open champion since 1970.

Last year's title was particularly sweet, given that Sampras hadn't won any tournament in more than two years. The man he beat in the third round, 1997 finalist Greg Rusedski, called Sampras "a step and a half slow" ! but Sampras just kept winning en route to what on Monday he called the happiest moment of his career.

I'm not retiring because I'm married or I have a son. I'm retiring because I have nothing to prove to myself. I've always had challenges ahead of me, either staying No. 1 or winning majors," Sampras said. "My biggest challenge was last year ! the challenge of winning one more. Once I did that, I felt I really had climbed a tall mountain."

After that victory, Sampras hinted he might walk away but never said so explicitly. Instead, he practiced with coach Paul Annacone until he was sure he was ready to hang up the racket.
"As the year went on, he wanted to see how it felt, wondering: `Do I need to go play?' Clearly, Pete is someone who knows what he needs to do to be prepared to play. He didn't just want to show at a tournament. He wanted to be ready to win," Annacone said. "This whole process has been about deciding what you want to do about playing, and now he'll move on."

Probably in part because he came into the game alongside Agassi, Mr. Image is Everything from the get-go, Sampras often drew criticism for not showing more emotion on court or not being enough of a celebrity off it.

Asked how he's different today from when he won the U.S. Open for the first time, Sampras said: "Not a lot different. That's one thing I'm proud of. I didn't change much over the years. I was true to myself. I didn't sell out for the press or anybody."

He did have plenty of dramatic moments between the lines, of course, crying at the 1995 Australian Open after learning that his coach, Tim Gullikson, was diagnosed with cancer, and vomiting on court because of dehydration during a five-set victory over Alex Corretja in the 1996 U.S. Open quarterfinals.

"I'll miss playing. I'll miss competing. I'll miss going out in finals at Wimbledon or here, in front of 20,000 people. That rush, that excitement," Sampras said.

"Just the joy of playing the game that I will miss."

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