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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Clay soils Pete's record
Pete Sampras in action at the French Open
Clay is not suited to Sampras' serve-and-volley style

Pete Sampras will arrive in Paris knowing that his only remaining goal in tennis, winning the French Open, is now probably beyond him.

The American has won every other big title in the game, most of them many times over, but he has always come unstuck on the slow clay courts of Roland Garros.

It is the only challenge left for a man who won a record 13th Grand Slam championship at Wimbledon in 2000.

That made a total of seven Wimbledons, four US Opens and two Australian Opens.

  Pete Sampras factfile
Born Washington DC, 12/8/71
Height 6' 1"
Turned pro 1988
World ranking 14
Career singles titles 63
Grand Slam titles 13
Career prize money $41.225m

He has been a member of two American teams that have won the Davis Cup and finished the year ranked number one six years in a row. He has claimed 63 titles in all.

Sampras has played the French Open 12 times and his best showing was the semi-final in 1996, when he lost to eventual champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

But since then, he has reached the third round just once, with last year's showing - defeat in the second round - typical of his results in Paris.

Those who doubt that Sampras is the greatest-ever player point to Rod Laver, who won the Grand Slam of Australian, French, Wimbledon and US titles twice in his career.

Bjorn Borg did not seem to find it too much of a problem switching from grass to clay, winning six French and five Wimbledon titles.

And among Sampras' contemporaries, Andre Agassi has won all four majors in his time.

At his peak, Sampras had the power in his ground strokes to do well on clay, but his aggressive game has always been more suited to faster courts.

Clay court tennis is a game of stamina and that is the one area of the Sampras game that has always been suspect.

Last year it was revealed that he suffers from a blood condition called thalassemia minor, which means he is short of oxygen when exerting himself.

Although Sampras would love to complete his Grand Slam set, he has long since seemed resigned to failure at Roland Garros, playing a bare minimum of warm-up tournaments on clay in the run-up to Paris.

It is also telling that Sampras has not won a tournament since clinching his record 13th Grand Slam event at Wimbledon nearly two years ago.

Pete Sampras looks frustrated
Roland Garros has proved frustrating for Sampras

Although he had always played down the importance of the record, it was as if he could finally take his foot off the pedal once he had achieved it.

It appears to have dimmed his motivation, arguably along with his marriage to actress Bridgette Wilson in 2000.

In what is perhaps a final throw of the dice, Sampras replaced Paul Annacone, his coach of seven years, at the end of last year.

After a brief trial with Tom Gullikson, Sampras has now teamed up with Jose Higueras, whose best results as a player came on clay, twice reaching the semi-finals of the French Open.

Higueras has also coached former Roland Garros champions Jim Courier and Michael Chang.

At 30, Sampras can take inspiration from his great rival Andre Agassi, who is still at the very top of the game at 31.

But Agassi had what might euphemistically be called a career break - at the same time that Sampras was frenetically trying to maintain his place at the game's summit.

And it is looking like the six years Sampras spent guarding his position as world number one have finally caught up with him.

He freely admits that flogging around the world day in, day out to play tennis from Tashkent to Tokyo no longer holds the same appeal.

These days, Sampras saves his energy for the Grand Slams but, where the French Open is concerned, it is likely to be a waste of breath.

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