Sampras: straight-set fashionable

June 21, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- Pete Sampras came to the All England Club yesterday a new man.

He came dressed in the baggiest white shorts this side of the NBA and topped them off with an even baggier white T-shirt.

His 6-foot-3 body, somewhere beneath all that fabric, appeared not to have a nervous bone in it.

And, in fact, it didn't.

Not only did the top seed come prepared to defend his Wimbledon title, he came ready to entertain the sellout Centre Court crowd.

His smile was genuine, his goodwill obvious, as he and Jared Palmer combined for an entertaining match that Sampras won, 7-6 (7-4), 7-5, 6-3.

Along the way he served 25 aces, his personal single-match best on Wimbledon grass, despite playing the first 25 minutes without serving one.

The one he did serve, however, was emphatic. It saved a second break point in the 12th game and forced a tiebreaker that he was able to dominate.

"I was excited when I walked out there," he said. "There is so much tradition here. I was the last one off the court here last year and the first one on today. It was really just nice to be out there."

Sampras arrived here last week and spent several quiet days. First, he hit a few balls with his childhood hero, Rod Laver, who was honored before Sampras' match on the 25th anniversary of his Grand Slam.

And then Sampras just wandered around the historic grounds, getting familiar with this club that his serving style could make his own for a long, long time to come.

"I just walked, soaking up the place," he said. "Centre Court is the nicest court with the most atmosphere in the world, and I'm getting used to it. It has so much history and prestige and it's unique on grass, which is kind of a non-surface any more, except for one month in London.

"I do like it here."

Sampras beat Jim Courier for his first Wimbledon title last summer on the Fourth of July. Sampras' big serves dominated play.

And for days leading up to this opening match, the London newspapers had been filled with stories of dreaded boredom brought on by more of Sampras' stifling serves.

But yesterday, even when aces abounded in record number, Sampras did not bore. With Palmer showing an innate ability to return serve and with both players demonstrating fine ground strokes, no one in the sold-out grandstands was complaining.

In fact, in the second set, with the score even at one game each, Sampras actually had the crowd laughing.

He served a let. And then another and another -- and another. Four serves. Four lets. The crowd giggled, Sampras grinned. And then he aced it, 15-0.

On the next point, it was three serves and three lets, and the crowd was rolling. And so was Sampras, who moved his long body to the net and made as if to measure it -- and then tapped it down -- just a little.

The net judge came out and properly measured. He judged it perfect. The crowd cheered. Sampras raised his racket and served another ace.

Sampras won the game at love, with three aces, seven lets and lots of laughs.

"It's easier to be that way, relaxed, having a good time, when you're winning," Sampras said. "In this match, I played well and so did Jared, and because we had an appreciative crowd, it raised the level of our play."

As for those baggy tennis togs, they're evidently here to stay -- at least for the fortnight.

"I do like these shorts," he said. "There's definitely a lot of room in them to move around."

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