Tennis Prose



Finishing Facing Sampras

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By Scoop Malinowski

I never intended to do a Facing Sampras book until I met a tennis player on Longboat key named Dan. We started hitting one afternoon this past winter and eventually I learned he actually bought and read Facing Federer which he said he purchased at the US Open book store.

He said he quite liked the book and expressed interest that he would like to read about what it was like to Face Pete Sampras.

A few months passed. I began to reminisce about the career of Pete Sampras and decided in July to begin the project. The first two interviews I did about Facing Pete were in Newport with Todd Martin and Leander Paes. Martin played Pete 22 times, so he had some fascinating insights. Also, Todd was a good friend of Pete and also played him in the 18s grass courts final in Philadelphia. Paes only played Pete once, but he won that encounter in New Haven in straight sets. So, obviously, this book got off to a thrilling start and much of my summer was dedicated to finding and interviewing opponents of Pete at Citi Open, US Open.

A lot of luck was involved. Wayne Ferreira walked by me at the US Open by the outer court. Fortunately Wayne looks exactly the same as he did when he competed on the ATP Tour about a decade ago, still attired in Fila from head to toe so it was easy to recognize him. The South African with the monster forehand, who won 15 ATP singles titles (the last in 2003), holds six singles wins over Pete. And so Wayne’s memories of playing Pete were one of the biggest thrills of the collection process of this book, especially when Wayne revealed in detail what his specific tactics were to conquer Sampras.

Another lucky encounter at the US Open resulted in spotting Petr Korda. I arrived early to the Open one day and before 11 am I found Korda on court with his son Sebi and Patrick Kypson. Korda also achieved several wins over Pete and it was another high point hearing Korda relive those experiences.

In total I interviewed over 30 players who competed against Pete, including Bill Behrens who played Pete in high school and was a regular hitting partner of Pete when they were teenagers in Los Angeles. Bill shared many fascinating insights including a hilarious story about when Pete was invited to go fishing with Michael Chang on a row boat.

Luck had to be on my side for Facing Sampras because I even found the guy who played Pete in his very first professional match at the Spectrum in Philadelphia – Sammy Giammalva Jr, who now operates a club in Houston, TX.

Another highlight moment was when I contacted the former world heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis for his thoughts on Pete. Lennox and Pete ruled their sports during the same years in the 1990s and I always noticed a similarity between both, two class act, two dignified, understated champions who spoke through their performance not their words. When I reached out to Lennox about this book about Pete, he was happy to share his thoughts and admiration for Sampras which was thrilling to learn that Pete was actually an inspiration for his own Hall of Fame career.

With all the sensational achievements of Federer, Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, one could easily forget how fantastic Sampras was in his day. But this book helps to make you remember the fourteen majors, seven Wimbledon titles and Pete’s defining moment matches against Alex Corretja at the US Open and Jim Courier in Melbourne, both dramatic five setters.

Giammalva also made an interesting point about the Sampras example actually influencing the following eras. “I think Pete transformed – in a subtle, silent way – the attitude of the game and the attitude of the best players.”

Order Facing Sampras at amazon for $9.99 or $4.99 on Kindle.

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