Nov 19, 2014

Sampras the disappasionate

One of the most boring champions of our time was a generally grouchy dude named Sampras. The man is known for the dizzying heights he reached at Wimby but was generally associated with having no heart early in his career, most notably called out by Connors after Sampras had expressed indifference about being excellent. Or something that usually pissed off Connors.

Like opponents breathing air.

Sampras's first two Davis Cup finals were not so memorable, the first one was a thumping by the French in 1991, and the second, while a win over the Swiss was a bad consolation as his inclusion was with an aging Mac in the doubles, while the prime slots went to Courier and Agassi.

See how I cleverly made the connection with France and Switzerland, this year's (2014) finalists?

Any hoo, fast forward to 1995, and Sampras was, well, still boring, His image of a passionate player still was missing. As was his record on clay. Most Samprasites know that he sucked on clay, but how bad did he suck? Let's just say pretty damn bad.

Oh, alright, I promised stats, so here goes: he played a total of 73 tournaments on clay. Managed to win a whopping 3! So, not just bad. Stinking bad, for a champ.  Samprasites can point out that he was 67-24 or something and fourth best in the nineties, but for now, he sucked, OK?

So this was the tie that would finally expose Sampras for the heartless fraud he was. Against Kafelnikov, and Chesnokov—the first of the Russkies that had made everyone take notice of their surge. Sampras was accompanied by the French Open conqueror Jim Courier and Todd Martin. (Agassi was in the midst of his meth binge and could not be bothered.)

Warning: The following paragraph might be speculation, but let's just say that it is true.
No one gave them much of a chance, especially since this was being played in Russia. Now, unconfirmed rumors have it that Boris Yeltsin an avid tennis fan himself, and in command of the Red Army, did not like the odds just stacked, he wanted them rigged. So he ordered a couple of the private first class types (or whoever it is that old Jack Nicholson yelled at in that Tom Cruise movie) to make the clay even slower. So there they were, a bunch of the Red Army on detail. Watering the clay to make it mushier. And slower. And even slower.

I won't bore you with the details of what happened next but I think it is important to mention that Sampras played the best clay court tennis of his life. In shorts made from the same material and print that Berdych today makes his shirts. He beat Chesnokov in a cramping, falling, unable-to-walk marathon to give the US hope, since it was assumed that Courier would be able to hold his own. But Kafelnikov (aided by Yeltsin's treachery) took care of Courier as if he was, er, Sampras.

The doubles was rife with more speculation, because, no way would a Sampras hobbling like it was Federer in 2014, play, right?  It was his worst surface, and he was not exactly a doubles specialist. But play he did, and won with Martin.

The reverse singles were still favoring the Yeltsinites. Kafelnikov and Chesnokov would have been favored to win their matches, but unh uh. Not this day. Sampras demolished Kafelnikov as if he was not there, and no one cares what Courier did after that.

So there he was, the most boring champion, the dud on clay, taking it, with his Berdych shorts, and his Federer-2014-like fitness to the Red Army on the red surface. Real tennis fans would never doubt his resolve or passion after that.

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