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Was Pete Sampras Backhand Change A Mistake?

At the Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open last week I had the pleasure to sit next to and chat with Brian Gottfried for several matches on Nick Bollettieri Stadium Court.

When I asked Brian if he had ever hit with Pete Sampras, he revealed that he did when Pistol Pete was around fourteen, at an Orange Bowl camp Gottfried was in charge of.

This was when Sampras was still using his two-handed backhand, which was later changed by his coach Pete Fischer. Fischer, a pediatrician and tennis enthusiast, first spotted Sampras as an early teen and became his coach. Later Fischer decided that someday this natural young talent could someday win Wimbledon and his chances would increase with a one-handed backhand. So the change was made.

But Gottfried told me last week he didn’t agree with this change and Pete’s two handed backhand was excellent and sufficient to win Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open and even Roland Garros.

Gottfried, the former world no. 3 ranked player in 1977, Roland Garros finalist and winner of three Grand Slam doubles titles, still believes Sampras would have been more competitive on red clay with a two-hand backhand and perhaps would have added to his Grand Slam total count of 14 major titles.

Marcelo Rios, who played Sampras for the first time at 1994 Roland Garros 2R when he was 18 in his first year on the ATP World Tour, described the Sampras one handed backhand as “shit” in my book Marcelo Rios: The Man We Barely Knew. Rios threatened Sampras but was defeated 76 76 64.

It’s very possible the Pete Fischer decision to alter the natural two-handed backhand of Pete Sampras was in hindsight a mistake and misjudgement that perhaps cost him winning several additional Grand Slam titles.

Click link to read my Brian Gottfried Biofile interview

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  • eugene · April 17, 2023 at 2:35 pm

    I played Pete when he was 13-14 when he was transitioning to a one hand backhand. At that time, he had the best volley I’d ever seen with a young player and he never smiled even then. I agree, he should have stuck with the 2 handed backhand.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 17, 2023 at 2:52 pm

    Eugene, thanks so much for your valuable insights. Wish you’d share more though ) Pete was too focused to smile )

  • Matt Segel · April 18, 2023 at 6:13 pm

    Found this article. Not saying it’s true but interesting.

  • Scoop Malinowski · April 18, 2023 at 8:26 pm

    Matt, I wonder what Pete thinks about it. I need to re-read his autobiography.

  • Steve · May 1, 2023 at 7:27 pm

    I like Sampras’ one hander. People forget that he hit many winners with it agaist Agassi. He often sliced, sliced, sliced and then would unleash an unexpected winner out of nowhere shocking the Las Vegan and crushing his spirit with this park-level looking stroke.

    And his game on clay was good enough to defeat 2x champ Bruguera at Roland Garros.

    Sampras’ movement and foot speed are also underrated or at least under-mentioned.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 1, 2023 at 9:00 pm

    Steve, that often mocked Pete backhand won 14 Grand Slams. It was a great stroke but it might have been greater with two hands, nobody knows not even Pete himself. Rios actually called the Pete backhand “shi7” after their Garros match. I highly respect Brian Gottfried’s observations though, he saw and hit against Pete’s two hander and many others like Borg, Connors, etc. Brian is not a guy to say something just to be provocative, he truly believes what he says.

  • Steve · May 3, 2023 at 4:01 am

    Next time you see Gottfried tell him it is not the stroke style it is the athlete.

    A great athlete will develop incredible shot quality with any stroke they choose.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 3, 2023 at 8:00 am

    Steve, you don’t think Gottfried knows this? Yes Pete had a great one hander and also two hander. One of them was the better option, we don’t know if the one hander truly was the better option.

  • Steve · May 5, 2023 at 6:23 pm

    He may not. Great players oftem make horrible technical coaches because typically they learned the game so young it is almost intuitive.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 5, 2023 at 8:56 pm

    Steve, please name one great player who is a “horrible technical coach.”



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