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Forget drama, it's history Sampras routs Pioline, is first U.S. man with four Wimbledon titles

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- Now, Pete Sampras is in the land of the tennis legends.

He's up there with Bill Tilden, within striking distance of Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg and bearing down hard on Roy Emerson.

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Yesterday, Sampras won Wimbledon and made history.

He beat a Frenchman named Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, in a final that was stripped of drama but crammed with brilliance.

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He became the first American man to win four Wimbledon singles titles.

And he notched a 10th Grand Slam championship, tying him with Tilden, right behind Laver (11), Borg (11) and Emerson (12).

"To have won 10 by the age of 25, I never really thought it would happen," Sampras said. "This is what's going to keep me in the game, I hope for a lot of years."

Sampras owns Centre Court at Wimbledon -- and owns men's tennis.

The game is now Sampras against fill-in-the-blank.

He chased Boris Becker into retirement at this Wimbledon.

His other big opponent, Andre Agassi, seems to be on an extended honeymoon.

"There are so many great players coming through the rankings that it's hard to have a rivalry today, compared to 10 or 15 years ago," Sampras said. "The game is so much deeper."

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Is history his greatest rival?

"I don't like thinking of myself in terms of history," he said. "I feel that I'm doing quite well for how old I am. I feel like I'm in the middle of my career, and it's not over yet. Now, I'm battling against all these guys -- not history.

"It's all those guys who are out to beat you. To be able to stay on top for as many years as I have is something that is the most important thing to me. To have the longevity to stay on top is not easy to do."

By 25, Borg was done and John McEnroe was finished winning major titles.

But Sampras may still be peaking.

"I feel like I can get better, that I can improve," Sampras said.

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He is so good, so elegant, he makes the game look positively easy. And he snuffs out drama, deflating his rivals -- and the crowd.

Pioline played with heart and style to get to this final. The crowd was pulling for him on every shot.

But all he did was get ground into the Wimbledon dust by Sampras.

Here was the point of the match: Third set. Fourth game. Sampras at the net, standing there, daring Pioline to pass. And the Frenchman kept unloading these forehand haymakers, until finally, on the third volley, Sampras put away the point.

Pioline hobbled away in disgust.

"He does not give you air," Pioline said. "You cannot breathe against him."

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At Wimbledon, Sampras held serve in 116 of 118 games.

He clubbed 119 aces.

"This is the best I think I've ever served in my career," Sampras said. "It was the shot that won me the tournament."

But Sampras isn't a one-shot player. He has the kind of game the old pros love, compact and daring with just a touch of artistry at the net.

"He's not a god," Pioline said. "He's a good player."

But clearly there is something special about Sampras.

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"I really have no fear in the game," Sampras said. "I feel like if I'm playing well, I'm tough to beat. You know, I feel like I've got some options out there. I can stay back or come in. And to serve as well as I have these past couple of weeks, I'm going to be tough to beat. When I'm confident and playing well, that's for me."

Is he the best ever?

It's difficult to judge.

Sampras has never won the French Open, played on clay. But then, the last men's player to win all the Grand Slam titles was Laver.

Tennis is far different now from when Laver played, though.

The old stars used tiny wooden rackets.

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The new stars wield oversized tennis flame-throwers.

The old stars were part of a clubby sport dominated by Americans and Australians.

The new stars are in a big-money galaxy, where finely trained athletes often zoom to stardom.

Yet Sampras is the one constant of the modern game, the nearest thing to a sure thing.

The other day, former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich said that Sampras was so successful because all he ever did was focus on tennis, at the expense of other life experiences.

Sampras considered the point and said: "I've got the rest of my life to do what I want, when I'm finished at 30, 35, whenever I stop."

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"I feel like when I'm done, I don't want to have any regrets," Sampras added. "This is my job, and this is what I love to do."

Sampras is no longer just a player.

He's a legend.

Grandest men's champions

Men with the most Grand Slam championships:

Player, Australian, French, Wimbledon, U.S., Total

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Roy Emerson, 6, 2, 2, 2, 12

Rod Laver, 3, 2, 4, 2, 11

Bjorn Borg, 0, 6, 5, 0, 11

Bill Tilden, 0, 0, 3, 7, 10

Pete Sampras, 2, 0, 4, 4, 10

Fred Perry, 1, 1, 3, 3, 8

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Ken Rosewall, 4, 2, 0, 2, 8

Jimmy Connors, 1, 0, 2, 5, 8

Ivan Lendl, 2, 3, 0, 3, 8

Box score

Breaking down Pete Sampras' 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Cedric Pioline in the men's final:

.......... .......... .......... S ........ P

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Aces ..... .......... .......... 17 ....... 13

Service winners ..... .......... 45 ....... 31

Double faults ....... .......... 2 ........ 1

1st-serve percentage ........... 59 ....... 59

Pct. 1st-serve pts won ......... 87 ....... 70

Break points ......... ......... 4-8 ...... 0-1

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Return points won .... ......... 28 ....... 14

Net points .......... .......... 44-61 .... 35-62

Total points won .... .......... 89 ....... 65

Time of match: 1:34

Road to the title

How top-seeded Pete Sampras won the Wimbledon men's singles championship:

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Round, Opponent, Seed, Score

First, Mikael Tillstrom, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2

Second, Hendrik Dreekmann, 7-6 (7-2), 7-5, 7-5

Third, Byron Black, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2

Fourth, Petr Korda, 16, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (8-10), 6-7 (1-7), 6-4

Quarters, Boris Becker, 8, 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 6-4

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Semis, Todd Woodbridge, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3)

Final, Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4

Pub Date: 7/07/97


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