Though I’m not as avid a bookworm as my wife, Jasmin, I love books. (Plus, I strongly believe that today’s children read much, much less while watching more TV and playing more videogames—but that’s another article.)
My favorite books? Without question: Autobiographies. And, at my home’s second floor study area, I have a library of them: Barack Obama’s two bestsellers, John McEnroe’s “You Cannot Be Serious,” Richard Branson’s “Losing My Virginity,” and plenty more by Pele, Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, Bob Cousy, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Martina Navratilova, Rod Laver…
Last Sunday, I finished one more. Thanks to one of my best friends on the tennis court—Fabby Borromeo, who purchased it in the U.S. and lent it to me last week—I devoured the story of one man who stands as probably the athlete I idolized the most.
“Pete Sampras: A Champion’s Mind / Lessons From A Life In Tennis” is a stupendous book—as you’d come to expect from the greatest player ever to hold a tennis racket. (Roger Federer fans: Your man has not surpassed Pete’s 14 Grand Slam singles titles record yet, so the accolade, for now, though I’m sure it will be broken by RF, stays with PS.)
Spanning 306 pages and just released last June, if you’re a tennis fanatic of the 1990s and of early this decade—meaning, if you watched Pistol Pete win seven Wimbledon crowns, five US Open trophies and two Australian Open titles—then you’ll love this book as much as Fabby and I enjoyed it.
Co-written by one of the best writers of the sport, Peter Bodo, it starts off with this dedication, “For my wife, Bridgette, and boys, Christian and Ryan: you have fulfilled me in a way that no number of Grand Slam titles or tennis glory ever could.”
With wife Bridgette
Wow! Coming from a man once labeled as Samprazzz—owing his methodical and, some say, boring approach to tennis—that’s an emotional statement. And, true enough, scanning through the words and turning page after page, this you’ll realize: As dull and colorless Sampras was on-court, he’s a highly-emotional person.
To those who follow tennis, remember the year 2003? At the US Open? When Sampras was honored by his colleagues and he wept and wept like New York rained? Or, during his International Hall of Fame enshrinement when he did the same, sobbing? For while Sampras rarely uttered a word (or complained) on-court, he bottled up all his emotions and unleashed them on this autobiography. Any shockers? Controversies? Hidden secrets that he exposed? None.
Still, reading about his first US Open victory at the age of 19, his Wimbledon triumphs, his epic match against Alex Corretja when he vomited, his struggles at the French Open (which he never won)—it’s like you’re revisiting old times. In fact, in my case, after finishing the book, the first act I did last Sunday was to watch my old VCD copy of the Sampras – Boris Becker 1996 ATP World Championships Final (the greatest match I’ve ever seen!).
What I loved most about the book was his analysis of his opponents. In the last chapter, after he’d narrated his life story from birth to retirement, he mentions every top player he battled against: Chang, Edberg, Ivanisevic, Krajicek, Rafter. But, of all Sampras has faced, the name that is mentioned in the same sentence most is Andre Agassi. Here’s an excerpt from page 236:
“For most of our careers, we really couldn’t have been more different—in personality, game, even the clothing we wore. Our lifestyles were radically different. Andre always seemed bent on asserting his individuality and independence, while I tried to submerge my individuality and accepted the loss of some personal freedoms. Andre was Joe Frazier to my Muhammad Ali, although the personalities were kind of flipped around because Andre was the showman and I was the craftsman. Wherever you lived, we were neighbors: I was the nice, quiet kid next door on one side, and Andre was the rebellious teenager on the other.”
Perfectly-said. For with this book, Sampras, like he often did on court, serves up another ace.