Sampras slams Becker to stay front and centre WIMBLEDON

July 10, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun

WIMBLEDON, England -- They will miss Pete Sampras. They will recall the years when he owned Wimbledon, when he was the big, quiet bully of men's tennis, grinding his opponents into the grass and winning championships with quick-draw serves and penetrating volleys.

Yesterday, he won his third straight Wimbledon title by stomping on Boris Becker's sentimental express, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

When Sampras held the winner's trophy aloft, the crowd cheered politely. But when Becker made an impromptu lap of honor around Centre Court, the roars echoed in the old stadium.

"You just don't appreciate things at the moment," Becker said. "Many people have been talking about a role model with Andre Agassi. If there's a role model in tennis, it's Pete Sampras. He is behaving perfectly on the court. He is a real nice fellow off the court, and he is playing great tennis. He doesn't really have a bad shot in his game. I think he's definitely extremely good for the game of tennis."

Good? Sampras is pushing himself up to living tennis legend status. He turns 24 next month, and, already, he has won six Grand Slam titles. He is also the first player to win three straight Wimbledons since Bjorn Borg was en route to five consecutive titles.

"I hope people appreciate the tennis I play," Sampras said. "I'm not going to throw tantrums or act like a jerk out there. That's the way I was brought up, and that's the way I will continue to be."

He may cover his emotions on the court, but he clearly was moved to play his best tennis at these championships. He has saved his summer just as sure he has come to grips with life-and-death issues beyond the court.

Tim Gullikson, his coach and friend, didn't make the trip to Wimbledon because he has been undergoing chemotherapy for malignant brain tumors. The two have been close for years, but few knew the depth of their friendship until the past few months.

Sampras wept in the midst of his Australian Open match against Jim Courier, only hours after hearing of a dire medical report on Gullikson's condition. At the French Open, traveling without Gullikson, Sampras appeared bewildered in a first-round loss.

But here, he was focused. Whenever he wobbled yesterday, he listened for the voice of Tim Gullikson's twin brother, Tom, who would shout out Sampras' nickname, "Pistol." Sampras also relied on the tactical knowledge of his hitting partner, Paul Annacone, who said of Sampras: "He has a lot of heart, a lot of focus, and he just wants to be a good person."

Finally, when the match ended, Sampras dedicated the victory to Tim Gullikson, and spoke with the coach by telephone.

"He's a true champion," Sampras said of Gullikson. "The way he has handled his treatment is just an inspiration. Over the phone, he gave me the encouragement to go on and put what happened at the French behind me and hopefully try to win a three-peat for him. So I felt pretty good about that."

The Sampras who dominated men's tennis last year is clearly back. He may be No. 2 in the official rankings behind Andre Agassi, but the Wimbledon win gives him a claim for player of the moment.

"When a guy plays like he did in the final, no one can beat him," said Nick Bollettieri, Becker's coach. "Pete is still the best player in the world."

Modern power tennis may not be fancy, it may even be boring, but that's not Sampras' fault. He'll never have John McEnroe's touch of genius at the net or Jimmy Connors' grinding charisma from the baseline.

But what Sampras has is the ability to hit big serves on demand and make the big returns.

"People who know the game understand that this is grass-court tennis," Sampras said. "People watch Wimbledon more than any tournament in the world, and they see fast points. You have to understand when you have two guys that serve extremely big and volley pretty well, you are not going to have long rallies. That's the bottom line."

Against Becker, he was like a pitcher who was going after a perfect game. Sure, he lost a first-set tiebreaker, but with searing Centre Court temperatures, it was Sampras who remained fresh, while Becker's legs gave out.

Sampras had 23 aces. He never faced a break point. He was so good that Becker covered his eyes and staggered around the baseline because it didn't matter if he could see the ball or not -- Sampras was hitting all chalk.

"Unfortunately, he owns the Centre Court now," Becker said. "I used to own it a few years back, but it belongs to him now."

Becker is 27 and has three Wimbledon titles and was trying to become the first man since Bill Tilden to win Wimbledon championships over a 10-year period. It didn't quite work out, but he still gave everyone a marvelous two weeks. More than any other player, he said, he understood exactly what Sampras accomplished.

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