Pistol Pete Looks Back

I recently had the chance to interview Grand Slam record-holder Pete Sampras for his new memoir, A Champion’s Mind (Crown; June 10, 2008) which came out earlier this week. It was co-written with Tennis.com blogger extraodinaire, Peter Bodo, who has as keen an eye as anyone covering the sport. It's a good read if you want to know more about how Sampras dealt with his playing career. If you want gossip, look elsewhere (I can't help but think that when Andre Agassi's already commissioned memoir comes out it will be filled with a lot more juice).

My time writing about tennis didn't overlap much with Sampras. His last U.S. Open was my first. Who knew that when he beat longtime rival Agassi in the 2002 final it would be the 36-year-old's swan song? So it was a thrill to finally speak one-on-one with one of the game's legends.

When Sampras and I sat down on an misty morning at the Beverly Hills Hotel last month to discuss the book, Sampras, clad in jeans and a blue, long-sleeve athletic top, ordered to form: a double espresso and cinnamon bagel “with the butter on the side,” he told the waiter. Simple, classic, potent and closely controlled: some of the same characteristics that shaped his illustrious on-court career.

Sampras has a mischievous streak that was evident during our chat, but one senses that the naturally reticent six-time year-end No. 1 will never be completely at home in the limelight. That’s not to say he doesn’t have strong views, and he wasn’t afraid to opine about some of the sport’s ongoing issues, including doping, gambling and the Davis Cup format.

Still, piecing together the fragments of his storied career makes one wonder if he’s still holding back. Like the half-eaten bagel he left on the table, one craves a few more bites, or least some butter and jam slathered on top.

To read portions of our conversation, click on the story that ran mostly online earlier this week in USA Today.


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