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Sunday, 9 July, 2000, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Sampras shows champion spirit
Pete Sampras
Sampras deserves to be called the greatest
His record speaks for itself but Pete Sampras proved he was the greatest player in men's tennis long before his record-breaking triumph over Pat Rafter.

The American has overcome not just the challenge of Rafter, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Tim Henman in the past fortnight, he has also seen off an injury which threatened to wreck his hopes of winning a 13th Grand Slam.

Sampras was struck down by tendinitis in his left shin in only his second match of the All England Club championships.

Concerns

It immediately sparked concerns he would be forced to pull out, prompting hastily-written obituaries in case those fears came true.

But news of the champion's demise were greatly exaggerated.


Pete Sampras
A few thought he was faking injury
Lesser individuals might have folded but Sampras battled on, ignoring snide accusations he was feigning injury.

After limping through the rest of his match against Karol Kucera, he eased his way gingerly past Justin Gimelstob and Jonas Bjorkman before coming up against the rapidly-improving Jan-Michael Gambill.

The clash with his fellow American was billed as a major test but Sampras passed with flying colours.

Qualifier Vladimir Voltchkov was another potential banana skin but that was neatly side-stepped as well.

Expose

That left Rafter, who many thought would finally expose a less than fully fit champion.

But Sampras looked mean and hungry as the opening shots were fired in what proved to be an absorbing final.

He certainly did not look handicapped as he fired down serves at more than 130mph and peppered Rafter's defence with a string of bullet returns.


Pete Sampras
Sampras: the occasion got to him
True, there were rare moments of emotion - both during and after the match - which suggested he was not infallible.

But they only endeared Sampras to the Centre Court crowd and the millions of tennis fans watching the action on their television screens.

Sampras has often been criticised for behaving almost robot-like on court.

Those critics have been well and truly silenced now.

Now there is genuine affection as well as bucket-loads of admiration for the 28-year-old from Washington.

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See also:

09 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
Sampras' magnificent seven
09 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
The green, green grass of home
09 Jul 00 |  Photo Galleries
Men's singles final: In pictures
10 Jul 00 |  Wimbledon2000
Sampras: Simply the best
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