“Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited” Shares The Champion’s Story By Steve Flink - UBITENNIS
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“Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited” Shares The Champion’s Story By Steve Flink

At 19, Pete Sampras won the first of 14 Grand Slam titles at the US Open. He closed his illustrious career claiming his final major in New York, the city where it had all began. Over the years, a library’s worth of stories have been written about him, but none compare to “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. In the book, renowned tennis journalist Steve Flink, in recognition of the thirtieth anniversary of Sampras’ initial triumph, offers a unique overview of the man that few know – The Real Pete Sampras.

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Pete Sampras stunned the tennis world when he won the US Open singles title as a 19-year-old in 1990. In essence, an unknown became known and – borrowing from Frank Sinatra – reached the “top of the heap…” in New York. Twelve years later, he took full advantage of the opportunity in that same setting to bring the curtain down on his extraordinary career. At 31, he made a final entry in the record book when he won his fourteenth major championship in storybook fashion… It seemed as if it had come full circle… To once again quote Sinatra, with a slight alteration, “It brought an end to a very good career”. 

 

(At the 2003 US Open, after having not played another tournament since the triumph, he fittingly took a final bow where it all had begun and officially retired.) 

In “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”, Steve Flink paints a portrait as if he were Claude Monet, who saw the reality of the world and made it more beautiful. The acclaimed Impressionist relied on the eyes of the viewer to mix the colors he used for his captivating landscapes, many of which he painted in his Giverny garden. Flink, the 2017 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee, uses words similar to the way Monet utilized his palette to create an understanding of who Sampras is and more important, a genuine feeling for him as a player and an individual that many watched but very few really knew.

Sampras’ birthday is August 12, 1971. He joined the pro ranks at Indian Wells in 1988, five months before he turned 17. Early on, his talent had been widely recognized, but, because he was shy, he didn’t really burst on the scene. Actually, he never sought attention and he certainly wasn’t loquacious. With Rod Laver as his model and Wimbledon as his goal,  he lived by the motto – I let my racquet do the talking. As a result, many tennis aficionados knew him only based on his tournament results. Otherwise, he was nearly invisible. 

Flink, who has a photographic recall of points and matches played, travels through Sampras’ record setting; from New York and significant stops in between and then back to New York – from his first major to his last. The easy to read writing style weaves facts and observations smoothly, with no apparent seams in the story’s fabric. The author is so skilled that he makes the reader feel as if he/she is fortunate enough to be sitting in the room and listening to conversations between Steve and Pete as they discuss details gleaned from his Grand Slam competitive triumphs, the successes that were realized at ATP Year-End Championships and his most cherished accomplishment – finishing No. 1 in the world for six straight years – a record that may never be broken.

Every tennis “story about…” features a list of accomplishments and praise of the subject by former opponents and those who played prior to the individual’s time in the limelight. For the most part, the supporting quotes can be summarized in driving onto a dead-end street fashion – “Good player, Good guy”. Because of Flink’s relationship with current and former players, he can use a masterful variety of insights about Sampras to make the story compelling. He collects them from the likes of Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang, rivals that date back to their shared junior days. Mats Wilander, Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic add to the richness of the canvas. So do the thoughts offered by Billie Jean King, Mary Carillo, Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin. Keeping with the tennis’ hierarchy parade, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl make some revealing assessments, too. John McEnroe is quoted and naturally lives up to his being “ever-so-candid” by reputation. Todd Martin, a circuit opponent, who is now the CEO of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, is as usual, solid with his remembrances. Comments by Paul Annacone and Tom Gullikson, one a former Sampras coach and the other his Davis Cup captain, thread through a portion of the book and  enhance its depth.

(I wrote the first Pete Sampras story that appeared nationally. It was in the “Inside The Junior Game” section of the June 1978 issue of World Tennis Magazine. Coincidentally, Steve Flink was the editor of the publication all those years ago. Perhaps it was fate, but he would go on to become a Senior Writer at Tennis Week, and I found a spot as a Contributor to that magazine as well.)

Mark Winters and Steve Flink at Flink’s 2017 International Tennis Hall of Fame induction in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo Cheryl Jones

Having had a lengthy career as a journalist and having already written two books that are “musts” for inclusion in every tennis library –  “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999 and later, “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012, I asked Flink why he had decided to focus on Sampras. As one of the game’s premier historian, he could have written about anyone in tennis. 

He explained, “I interviewed Pete a bunch of times over the telephone from 1992 to 1995. We met at Wimbledon in 1995. I wrote about him countless times both during and after his career. I would say I have done at least 15 or perhaps 20 features on Pete over the years.” 

Flink continued, “It took about a year-and-a-half or slightly less to write the book, primarily because I knew the subject so well. As I said in my introduction, in my mind I had been writing the book since late in his career.”

There is much more to the book than an encyclopedic listing of Sampras’ wins and losses. In “Save the Best for Last” fashion, Flink explores one of the game’s universal questions – stepping from one era to another, in their prime, who would win? Though such ventures are speculation, it is always fun to wonder – Would Bill Tilden have been competitive against Jack Kramer? Would Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez have held his own against his one-time brother-in-law Andre Agassi? How might Rod Laver have dealt with John McEnroe?

Flink tantalizes the reader with a look at how Sampras could have done against Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. In a pièce de resistance, he brings the story to a close offering his Top 10 American men ever and Top 10 American men in the Open Era. I will not even hint at what he has to say, but these two chapters are standalone book-worthy in and of themselves.

“I felt it had to be done,” Flink said. “I had always wanted to do this book. Pete is too often taken for granted. His contributions to the game have been immeasurable. I felt that knowing him so well and understanding what he is about made me perhaps uniquely qualified to be the author of a retrospective examination of Pete’s impact on the game.”

A group of French artists used a complicated technique to create an optical illusion and it was called trompe l’oeil. In English, it means “deceives the eye”. In no way was there any deception or deceit to Sampras. Flink entertainingly points out that he is genuine and for that matter, purely and simply real.

“I always deeply appreciated not only his gifts as a player but also his quiet way of going about things. The bottom line is that he deserves a laudatory book done on his exploits. My goal is for many fans to be reminded of why they admired him so deeply. Hence the title: ‘Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited’.”

“Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited” will be available to purchase after September 1, 2020. (Check Amazon)

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Internazionali d’Italia Day 5 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day

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Rafael Nadal is a nine-time champion in Rome (internazionalibnlditalia.com)

In a jam-packed Friday at Foro Italico, all third round matches will be played.

 

On the men’s side, the heavy favorites are the two men who have combined to win this event 13 out of the last 15 years: Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.  While the women’s side feels much more wide open, the two most recent champions, Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina, are two of the top three seeds remaining in the draw.  But the slight favorite is a two-time Rome finalist, and recent champion in Prague: top-seeded Simona Halep.

Johanna Konta (7) vs. Garbine Mugruza (9)

This is the only third round singles match between two top 10 seeds.  Muguruza advanced to this stage with noteworthy victories over Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff.  Konta had a bye in the first round, and dropped just four games yesterday to Irina-Camelia Begu.  Konta’s serving prowess has been well-documented, which propelled her to the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open a few weeks ago.  Historically a weak performer on clay, that changed dramatically for Konta last year.  Jo reached the final both here and in Rabat, and the semifinals at Roland Garros.  Still, her clay resume does not compare to that of the 2016 French Open champion.  They’ve split four previous meetings, which have all been tight three-setters.  There’s no evidence to support a lopsided affair today.  But Konta has been the better player since the tour restart last month, and spent significantly less court time this week.  If she continues to win a high percentage of first and second serve points today, that may apply more pressure than Muguruza can handle.

Grigor Dimitrov (15) vs. Jannik Sinner (WC)

Dimitrov looked stellar against an outmatched Yoshihito Nishioka on Tuesday, losing just one game and winning 96% of first serve points.  His opponent today should provide much more resistance.  Sinner is a fast-rising 19-year-old Italian who two days ago dismissed another ATP Next Gen champion, Stefanos Tsitsipas.  Jannik displayed perseverance in doing so despite dropping the second set tiebreak 11-9.  Dimitrov was a semifinalist here six years ago, but in more recent years has won as much as he’s lost on this surface.  In an event where Italian men have shined, Sinner will be inspired by the play of his fellow countrymen.  And the Italian’s firepower off both sides may be enough to secure himself another big win on home soil.

Other Notable Matches on Day 5:

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Dusan Lajovic.  The 30-year-old Serbian reached two clay finals last year, but the king of this surface he is not.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Filip Krajinovic.  Filip has only managed to wrestle four total games away in four previous sets played against his countryman.

Simona Halep (1) vs. Dayana Yastremska.  Halep has never lost a third round match in Rome.  20-year-old Yastremska is making her debut in the round of 16 of this event.

Defending champion Karolina Pliskova (2) vs. Anna Blinkova (Q).  The 22-year-old Russian won 48 matches at all levels last year.

Two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina (4) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time Major champion.  Svitolina leads their head-to-head 3-1, though they’ve never met on clay.

Victoria Azarenka (SE) vs. Daria Kasatkina (Q).  Azarenka steamrolled Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin yesterday 6-0, 6-0.  Kasatkina was a top 10 player just two years ago, but is now ranked 74th in the world after going 13-21 last year.

Italy’s top-ranked player Matteo Berrettini (4) vs. Stefano Travaglia (WC), an Italian veteran who defeated Taylor Fritz and Borna Coric this week.

Italy’s newest star Lorenzo Musetti (Q) vs. Dominik Koepfer (Q).  The 18-year-old Musetti has already upset Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, while Koepfer has defeated Alex de Minaur and Gael Monfils.

Full order of play is here.

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Internazionali d’Italia Day 4 Preview: The Men’s & Women’s Match of the Day

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Court Pietrangeli at Foro Italico (internazionalibnlditalia.com)

On Thursday in Rome, the prevailing theme will be established veterans taking on the new generation.

 

A trio of two-time Major champions will face three of the WTA’s most impressive young talents: an American teenager who was tennis’ breakout star last summer, a 24-year-old who already has 23 wins in this abbreviated season, and a 21-year-old who was the shocking winner of this year’s Australian Open.  On the men’s side, 30-somethings Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, and Fabio Fognini will all battle opposition approximately a decade their junior.  What will win out on Thursday: experience, or youth?

Sofia Kenin (3) vs. Victoria Azarenka (SE)

In their only prior encounter, youth prevailed.  18 months ago in Acapulco, Kenin pulled out one of the most significant wins of her burgeoning career, 7-5 in the third.  But this is a very different Azarenka that Kenin faces today.  After years of injuries, personal setbacks, and tough draws, Vika is back in a big way.  Following four consecutive losses prior to last month’s Western & Southern Open, Azarenka is now on a 12-1 run.  Once she got a few wins under her sails, the floodgates have opened.  While Kenin is rarely an easy out, she also doesn’t possess any significant weapons to contain a reborn Azarenka, who remains one of the game’s best returners.  The two-time Australian Open champion should be favored to overcome Melbourne’s most recent victor.

Kei Nishikori vs. Lorenzo Musetti (Q)

Musetti has a lot of the tennis world talking after his startling upset of Stan Wawrinka on Tuesday night.  Lorenzo, the 249th-ranked player in the world, was the junior champion of the Australian in 2019.  Two evenings ago, he dominantly took the first set from Wawrinka 6-0.  But even more impressively, he did not fold after donating a second-set lead, persevering to complete the win in straights.  His one-handed backhand is a thing of beauty, and his composure is noteworthy.  Is Italy’s new star ready to dismiss another top name?  Kei Nishikori missed a year of action due to an elbow injury and the pandemic, and is 1-1 since returning.  Nishikori certainly has a solid clay resume, but he’s currently far from his best.  In a week where Italian men have exceled, another Roman conquering is not out of the question.

Other Notable Matches on Day 4:

Garbine Muguruza (9) vs. Coco Gauff.  Coco routed an in-form One Jabeur in the last round, while Muguruza comfortably excused another American, Sloane Stephens.

Anett Kontaveit (14) vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova.  Their only previous meeting occurred in Rome two years ago, with Kontaveit winning after two tight sets.

In his first match since February, Gael Monfils (5) vs. Dominik Koepfer (Q), who upset Alex de Minaur in a third set tiebreak on Tuesday.

Fabio Fognini (7) vs. Ugo Humbert.  The 22-year-old Frenchman won his first ATP title earlier this year in Auckland.  Fognini has only once reached the quarterfinals in twelve past appearances at his country’s biggest tournament.

In a rematch of a dramatic fourth round match from 11 days ago at the US Open, Petra Martic (8) vs. Yulia Putintseva.

And in a battle between two rising ATP prospects, Andrey Rublev (9) vs. Hubert Hurkacz.

Full order of play is here.

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Borna Coric saves six match points to upset Stefanos Tsitsipas in thrilling third-round match in New York

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Borna Coric saved six match points to upset fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7 (2-7) 6-4 4-6 7-5 7-6 (7-4) on Louis Armstrong Stadium after four hours and 36 minutes in the best match so far at this year’s edition of the US Open reaching the fourth round at Flushing Meadows for the second time in three years. 

 

Tsitsipas was leading 5-1 in the fourth set and was very close to winning the match, but he wasted six match points in the ninth and tenth games. The match featured 112 winners and 92 unforced errors. Coric converted six of his 13 break points and saved 10 of the 15 break points. 

Both players traded breaks in the opening games of the first set and went on serve en route to the tie-break. Tsitsipas cruised to the tie-break to 7-2 after Coric made a a backhand error. 

Coric took a medical time-out after the tie-break and received treatment on his neck and his right shoulder. 

In the second set dropped five points on the first serve and earned six break point chances. Coric converted his third set point at 5-4 when Tsitsipas made a forehand error. 

Both players went on serve in the first eight games of the third set. Tsitsipas reeled off 12 of the last 14 points breaking Coric at love at 4-4. The young Greek player served for the set and forced Coric’s serve to win it 6-4. 

Tsitsipas broke twice in the first and fifth games to race out to a 5-1 lead in the fourth set. Coric pulled one break back in the eighth game. Coric faced six match points, but he saved two chances on serve in the ninth game forcing Tsitsipas to serve for the win. 

Tsitsipas took a 40-0 lead in the tenth game, but he wasted all four match points. Coric earned a break with a volley to draw level to 5-5 and clinched a hard-fought fourth set with a return winner in the 12th game. 

Both players in the fifth and sixth games in the fifth set. Tsitsipas wasted four break points in the ninth and eleventh games before Coric sealed the tie-break 7-4 after a loose forehand from Tsitsipas. 

Two days earlier Coric rallied from two sets to one to beat Juan Ignacio Londero. 

“I have to be honest and say that I was really lucky. I made some unbelievable returns and I was a bit lucky at the end. In the third and fourth set, he was playing unbelievable tennis and I felt like I had no chance. In the fifth set tie-break I knew it was not going to be easy for him, so I tried to just keep the ball in court and make as many balls as possible”, said Coric. 

Coric set up a fourth round match against Australia’s Jordan Thompson, who Mikhail Kukushkin 7-5 6-4 6-1 to reach the fourth round in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. 

Coric is aiming at reaching his first career quarter final at a Grand Slam tournament. 

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