One month after the death of his longtime coach Tim Gullikson, Pete Sampras reached the semifinals at Roland Garros, his best result ever on the parisian red clay.

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography A champion’s mind:

When the draw came out for Roland Garros, I just looked at it and went “Wow”. It was as though as it could get. On form, I would play two recent French Open champions, starting in the second round with two-time winner Sergi Bruguera. It was time to step up; I knew that’s what Tim (Gullikson) would have wanted me to do. Paul (Annacone) wanted me to attack relentlessly, and the conditions for that strategy were good. It was hot and dry and the court would be playing fast. I might be able to attack and pressure Bruguera, although he was a great defender and could run down anything.

The Parisians are astute fans and tennis aesthetes; they like players who are stylish, daring, or flamboyant. They understood what a coup it would have been for me, a serve-and-volley player who played a relatively clean, elegant game, to win the ultimate clay-court title – and the only Grand Slam that had eluded me up to that point.
But most important, they were well aware that I had just lost Tim, and their sympathy for me was obvious. Their press, led by sports daily L’Equipe, was all over the story. Tim had just died, yet because of all the publicity and the endless questions, he was more alive in my mind than at any time since before he became ill.

Inspired by the oupouring of concern, respect, and support, I beat Bruguera 6-3 in the fifth. I know Tim would have been proud of the way I attacked and kept the pressure on. I kept my head up for the entire match and I really felt Tim – and the French crowd – pushing me through the rough parts of that battle. In the next round, I beat my friend and Davis Cup doubles partner Todd Martin, and I lucked out a bit to get Aussie Scott Draper in the fourth round – Aussie attackers just didn’t pose the kinds of problems on clay as the European grinders did.

But in the quarters, I was up against Jim Courier, who played extremely well on clay, especially Parisian clay. He was a two-time champ at Roland Garros, and a dominant guy there for half a decade.
I lost the first two sets, which was suicidal given the quality of my opponent. But I felt oddly confident and calm, as if Tim were looking over my shoulder, telling me that it was okay, everything was going to work out. And in reality, I was striking the ball well and putting myself in position to win points. I was getting my backhand to his backhand, which was always the key to playing Jim, who loved to dictate with his forehand. I felt I was outplaying him, but for one thing: I was missing a few volleys here and there, and generally failing to close.

Things changed in the third and fourth sets. I started to finish effectively, and everything else fell into place. Soon I was dominating, although I was also beginning to feel the physical toll. But emotion and inspiration pulled me through. After I won the match, I said something in the press interview about feeling that Tim was watching and helping me. I stated that as fact, and it just added to the developing story. Beating Jim gave me a semifinal berth opposite Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and I liked my chances in that one. I liked them a lot. […]

When Friday rolled around, I was scheduled to play the early semifinal match. Playing the first semi in Paris is a drag. It’s a late crowd in Paris, especially in the choice seats gobbled up by corporations. Frenchmen are not likely to pass up a long, lavish lunch in the corporate hospitality area jsut to catch the first hour or two of what is usually at least a six-hour center-court program. So in Paris, you can find yourself playing a Grand Slam semifinal that has all the atmosphere of a second-round day match in Indianapolis or Lyon. It’s a bummer to play for a place in a Grand Slam final under those conditions. […]

The lack of atmosphere threw me, and so did the conditions. It was hot, the sun was blazing in a cloudless sky, and there wasn’t the slightest breeze. Of course, a fast, sun-baked court would help my game, but the heat could also drain me in a long clay-court grind.
As it turned down, I didn’t have to worry about stamina. I served well at the start, picked my spots to attack, and made good use of my forehand to force the action. Kafelnikov hung in there without worrying me. We went to the first-set tiebreaker and it was close, but I lost it – theoretically, no big deal. And then everything just imploded. I didn’t get a game in the next set, and won just two in the third. It was by far my most puzzling and distressing Grand Slam loss, and it occured against a guy with a tendency to get tight in big matches – especially against me. […]

I was stunned. Down deep, I’d felt that it was my time at the French Open, and that was all bound up with having lost Tim. I thought it was meant to be, especially after my wins over two worthy former champions. During that entire tournament, I felt like Tim was still alive. Tim and I were going to win the French – it was going to be another team effort, like getting over the hump and winning Wimbledon. I’d even had these conversations with him in my head during my matches at Roland Garros, and they helped pull me through.

During the Kafelnikov match, however, there was nothing but a resounding, deep silence. I didn’t think about this during the match, but I guess the silence probably settled in because my attempt to hold on to Tim, my fantasy that I could keep him alive, expired. Despite having been to Tim’s funeral, I hadn’t really faced up to or accepted the fact that he was gone. Two matches too soon, I had a devastating reality check.

When I hit the wall against Kafelnikov, and felt my dream – our dream – blow up in my face, it really did sink in. Tim was gone. Our dream was gone. It was gone for good.

Sampras - Moya, 1997 Australian Open

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“I won the Australian Open to launch my 1997 campaign, a pleasant surprise given the way I felt about the tournament. I took extra pride in the win for a couple of reasons.
In the round of 16, I played Dominik Hrbaty in a five-set war that I eventually won 6-4. The on-court temperature during that match hit 135 degrees Fahrenheit. Today, with the extreme heat policy in effect, they would have stopped the match, or closed the roof on Rod Laver Arena. Given what had happened at the US Open just months earlier in my match with Alex Corretja, I was glad to survive that test of stamina in the infernal Aussie heat.

It was also encouraging for me that while the Australian major is a hard-court tournament, in 97, it was dominated by slow-court players. After Hrbaty, I beat, in order, Al Costa, Thomas Muster, and Carlos Moya, to take the title. Each of those guys had won – or would win – Roland Garros. That gave me hope – maybe my fate at Roland Garros, the one slam that continued to elude me, wasn’t sealed quite yet.”

Mark Philippoussis, Australian Open 1996

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“I entered that event after having had less than a month of “off season” following the Grand Slam Cup (I pulled out of that with an ankle injury), and there was no way I was ready, much less eager to play.

I made the trip, though, and I played and ended up losing in the third round to an Aussie, Mark Philippoussis. The conditions were perfect for an upset: Mark had an adoring home crowd behind him and it was a night match, with some eighteen thousands fans jammed into the Rod Laver Arena, hungry for an upset. Mark just overpowered me – he was in the mythic zone, and when that happens to a player who has as big and versatile a game as Philippoussis, you’re in trouble.

Down deep, I didn’t feel too badly about the loss. I’d done my best. It might have been different if I’d been able to have six or eight weeks off to recharge my batteries and prepare for the new year. It also might have been different if it were any other major but the Australian. I never really liked playing in Melbourne, and my results over the years reflected it (I won just two titles there). This surprised many people, because on the surface the Australian Open might have looked like the perfect Grand Slam for me.

The Aussies have a great tennis tradition, yet even their icons tended to be regular, plainspoken, understated guys, somewhat like me. That was an immediate affinity I felt with Australia. The Australians also are a friendly, easygoing people, and the atmosphere at their major is laid-back; that also suited me. You could get gut-shot in the street there and if you crawled up to a guy for help he’d probably say, “No worries, mate!” and then do all he could to help.
The facilities at Melbourne Park, including Rod Laver Arena, are modern and first-class. You don’t have that feeling of chaos and crowding that characterizes the other majors; even the media presence is considerably smaller. So you have a little less of that intensity and crazy pressure.

In Melbourne you could always count on a few days when the temperature pushes the 100 degree mark, and even though it isn’t very humid, the heat can be draining. It was a special problem for me, because I secretly suffered from thalassemia, a mild disease common to men of Mediterranean descent. It’s basically a blood-iron deficiency that causes anemia, and those who have it are prone to wilting in intense heat.

Another unpredictable thing about the courts at Melbourne Park was the Rebound Ace surface (which was replaced by Plexicushion for 2008). Rebound Ace was a rubber compound that they painted over the typical hard-court base of asphalt. The surface provided a little cushioning and slowed the bounce, but it did strange things in the heat. It was so hot in Melbourne one year that a TV crew cracked an egg on court and, using time-lapse photography, recorded it frying. The heat made the Rebound Ace very sticky.

Yet the conditions in Oz can change in the blink of an eye. The difference between playing day and night matches there is huge (the Australian and US opens are the only two majors that have night tennis, and the retractable roof over the Laver Arena means you can have night indoor tennis). The surface reacted easily to ambient changes of any kind; it was simply a different court when the temperature was a comfortable 75 or 80 degrees – which was often the case during the night matches that followed scorching afternoons. To me, the Australian major was a crapshoot in the areas where I most preferred consistency – the surface, the balls, and the ambient conditions.”

Pete Sampras would end up winning 6 more Grand Slams. As for Philippoussis, despite 2 Grand Slam finals (1998 US Open and 2003 Wimbledon) he never fullfilled the expectations placed in him.

From Sampras‘ autobiography ” A champion’s mind”:

At 4PM on a calm and bright Sunday afternoon in early September, I looked across the net and saw the same person who had been there twelve years earlier, almost to the day, when I played my first Grand Slam final: Andre Agassi.

The Andre I saw in 2002 was someone different from the kid I had seen in 1990, and it went well beyond the fact that the multicolored mullet had become a shiny bald head, and that lime green costume was now a fairly plain, conservative shorts-and-shirt tennis kit.
I saw a seasoned, confident, multiple Grand Slam champion who was in full command of his game – a game that could hurt me. This was no stranger: this was my career rival. This was the yin to my yang.

I had no sentimental thoughts or reveries going into the final with Andre; I didn’t think at the time that it might be my last official match. There were no revenge or vindication motifs in my mind, no desire to gloat, no emotional moments spent contemplating my career or how I had arrived at another Grand Slam final.
It was all about the moment for me, it was all about the tennis we would play over the next two or three hours, and that was always how I liked it best.

The atmosphere was electric; the entire crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium seemed to expect something special. I always had a taste for big occasions, and I couldn’t ask for much more than this.
I rolled through the first two sets with some of the best tennis I had played in years, trying to cope with my pace and the pressure I put on his service games.

In the third set, Andre finally got his bearings and we settled into a slugging match.
At 5-6, Andre got my serve again. I fended off one set point, but he earned another one. I drove a forehand volley into the net and suddenly Andre was back in the hunt, down two sets to one and encouraged by my apparent fatigue.

We held serve to 3-4 in the fourth set, but then the script went awry and instead of holding and putting pressure on Andre’s next service game, I found myself down two break points. If Andre converted either break point to go up 5-3, we definitely would go up for a fifth set. And Andre was looking stronger as the match went on. I managed to fight off the break points to even it, 4-all.

Andre probably felt deflated momentarily; the situation was like our last Wimbledon final all over again. And I knew, at an instinctive level that this was my moment. I had spent an entire career honing the ability to recognize and exploit moments like these, when for an instant my opponent’s attention or resolve flickered. I was ready. Suddenly, I was in touch with my long-lost friend, the Gift. And it felt great. I broke Andre.

I dropped the racket and slowly raised my arms. It was over, over and done, over and done for good.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it was my last US Open title as well as my last Grand Slam appearance. It was my last moment in a special sun that was fading as fast as the one that descended into the haze of a late-summer afternoon in New York.
I had been given a rare opportunity to go out on my own terms. I took it.

Without a doubt one of the biggest upsets in the US Open history.

Extract from Sampras‘ autobiography A champion’s mind:

“Right before the 1994 Wimbledon, I got out of my Sergio Tacchini contract and signed a new clothing and shoe deal, with Nike. Wimbledon was my first official tournament for my new brand, and I was pretty fired up about being with the US-based giant. The color of the money might have been the same in Italy as Oregon, but having your big endorsement deals with companies in your native land is always preferable; it’s just a much more natural connection that can be exploited more effectively for everyone’s benefit.
Nike had developed a nice, classic clothing line for me, along with a shoe that was part of the massive new Air campaign that would prove to be such an enormous hit. Unfortunately, the shoe didn’t agree with my foot, and by the time I left Wimbledon my right foot was hurting and swollen. I went to a doctor and had an MRI, and was subsequently diagnosed with posterior tibial tendinitis.

I was scheduled to play Washington, but had to withdraw. I also pulled out of Montreal and Cincinnati; my summer preparation for the US Open was shot and Nike was scrambling around to find me a shoe I could wear for the American Grand Slam.

I survived three matches at the Open, but my fourth-round opponent was the crafty, slightly built Peruvian Jaime Yzaga. A player with nice touch and nimble feet, Yzaga moved me around, made shots when he most needed them. He found a way to break me enough times on a hot, humid afternoon to drag me into a fifth set.

I was in poor condition and had very little left in the tank, but remembering the pact I’d made with myself, I fought like mad. The New York crowd was firmly behind me, and they really appreciated the lengths to which I went to try and stay in the match. But woozy and clearly on my last legs, I lost, 7-5 in the fifth. The struggle was of such high quality that it captivated many, and by the time it was over, chaos more or less reigned . Jaime and I had turned in the most riveting match of the tournament, providing many with an unforgettable moment.

As soon as the match ended, tournament officials hustled me into the referee’s office, which was alongside the short tunnel through which players entered Louis Armstrong stadium. Attendants there stripped me and hooked up the IV bags. […]
When the IV kicked in for me, the first thing I saw was the familiar face of Vitas Gerulaitis. Seeing the kind of shape I was in, Vitas had rushed down from the commentary booth as soon as the last ball was hit. He volunteered to go over to the locker rooms to get my clothes and incidentals. When he returned, Vitas waited until I was sufficiently recovered to dress, and the he helped me out of the place, carrying my racket bag.
[…]
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last I would see of my friend Vitas. He died in a tragic accident just weeks later, succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in the pool house on a friend’s estate in the glitzy Hamptons on New York’s Long Island.”