| Sampras thinks he is ‘just not there right now’
London: Pete Sampras has fuelled the growing belief that his glittering career is over by pulling out of Wimbledon — the tournament he has dominated for a decade.
Sampras, who won the last of his seven singles titles on the All England Club grasscourts in 2000, has not played a match since a fairytale US Open victory last September — his 14th Grand Slam title.
The 31-year-old American has pulled out of several tournaments this season — the latest being this week’s claycourt Masters Series in Hamburg.
But news that not even another crack at Wimbledon can tempt him out of his inactivity means one of the greatest players ever to grace the game may soon be consigned to history. “I’m not 100 per cent going to close the door,” Sampras, who will also miss the French Open, the only Grand Slam title to elude him, told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday.
“But I know what it takes to be competitive — the training and preparation and the seven-day-a-week dedication — and I’m just not there right now. “For me not to be at Wimbledon, I guess that’s big.”
Sampras, winner of 64 career titles and $43.2 million in prize money, has long since turned his back on the weekly grind of the men’s tour.
Even before his emotional Wimbledon triumph of 2000 when he beat Australian Pat Rafter, Sampras had saved himself for the game’s most cherished prizes.
The effort involved in staying world number one for a record six years from 1993 to 1998 had taken its toll and he admitted ranking points no longer motivated him.
After scaling the heights to beat Rafter he went on a 33-tournament victory drought that, with each new defeat, appeared to signal a sad fade from greatness. Things reached a low at Wimbledon last year when he lost in the second round to Swiss qualifier George Bastl. The vultures were out in force to pick over the carcass of a once great champion but he still believed he could rise again.
So it proved last year at Flushing Meadow when he pulled off possibly his greatest victory. He rode the tidal wave of emotion, feeding off the crowd before downing Andre Agassi for his fifth title in New York.
The fact that it was Agassi, a player with whom he has shared one of the game’s greatest rivalries, would make it a fitting end to his career — if indeed that was his last match.
Of their 34 meetings stretching back to 1989, Sampras won 20, with his straight sets triumph in the 1999 Wimbledon final one of his most dazzling displays of all-court tennis.
While it is not unheard of to disappear off the tennis map and the return to the top, it involves the kind of effort that, at nearly 32, would appear beyond Sampras.
Agassi plummeted to 141 in the world in 1997 before jumping back into the top 10 the following year and has since won four more Grand Slam titles — but he is a one-off.
Sampras, now happily married and with a young child, has nothing else to prove in the game, although he might just feel the odd twitch in that famous right arm come Wimbledon-time. “I’m going to watch some of Wimbledon on TV,” he told the LA Times. “I’ll be curious and it’ll be interesting to see how I feel.”