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"Pistol" Pete's final shot

Sampras will go out a winner. Two weeks after his 32nd birthday, the legend will serve up an emotional farewell on the same hardcourt surface where he won his fifth US Open crown, last year.

tennis Updated: Aug 24, 2003 12:12 IST

Pete Sampras will go out a winner.

Ending the greatest career in men's tennis history, the 14-time Grand Slam champion will formally retire here Monday at the US Open in a ceremony at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Two weeks beyond his 32nd birthday, the American legend will serve up an emotional farewell on the same hardcourt surface where he beat arch-rival Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 last year for his fifth US Open crown.

"That's a fitting place for him to end it," said retired US great John McEnroe. "To me, Pete is right up there with the greatest who ever played."

Sampras won his 64th career title and rose to 20-14 against Agassi in their rivalry, including a 4-1 mark when the two met for Grand Slam titles.

"Pete was the best I have ever played," Agassi said. "I will always miss that. I don't think anything could ever live up to that for the rest of my career."

The victory snapped a two-year title drought for Sampras, who had not won since breaking Roy Emerson's career Slam singles title record at 13 in 2000 at Wimbledon, dumping Australian star Pat Rafter in the final despite tendinitis in his left foot.

"To pull off what he did, break Emerson's record, not win a tournament for two years and win an Open, it's hard to imagine you can go any higher," McEnroe said.

Sampras married actress Bridgette Wilson shortly after the 2000 US Open and became a father last November when she gave birth to son Christian.

While Agassi's career featured extreme highs and lows, Sampras stayed at a stunningly high level for most of his 15 years on the ATP Tour, finishing atop the rankings for an unprecedented six consecutive years from 1993 through 1998.

With a powerful serve and volley style and a gentleman's manner on and off the court, Sampras matched Ken Rosewall as the only men to win Slam titles in their teens, 20s and 30s.

"He was just one of the most graceful players of all time," said rising star Andy Roddick, the 20-year-old American whose power game makes him the most Sampras-like of the new breed. "The bigger the match, the better he played."

No player owned Wimbledon like Sampras, who captured seven titles on the hallowed grass of the All-England Club. From 1993 to 2000 he was 53-1 at Wimbledon, failing to capture the crown only in 1996.

The first US Open crown for "Pistol Pete" came at age 19 and included victories over Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Agassi. Sampras won the 1994 and 1997 Australian Open titles and the US Open crown in 1990, 1993, 1995 and 1996.

But Sampras never captured the French Open, the red clay of Roland Garros working against his big-serving game to deny him a career Grand Slam.

In 13 tries, Sampras' best French Open result was a 1996 semi-final run that included three five-set triumphs before a loss to Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Sampras lost only four Slam finals, two of them here in 2000 and 2001 after valiant battles to the final. Russia's Marat Safin stopped Sampras in 2000 and Aussie Lleyton Hewitt ousted him in 2001.

But Sampras won a epic encounter with Agassi here in a 2001 quarter-final, outlasting his rival 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/5) in a match that inspired standing ovations and neither man could muster a service break.

Sampras triumphed over adversity, the greatest being the death from brain cancer of his coach and friend Tim Gullikson, to whom Sampras dedicated his 1995 US Open finals triumph over Agassi.

First Published: Aug 24, 2003 12:00 IST