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Tennis legend Pete Sampras visits ancestral home in Greece May 16, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tennis Squash.

All the travel, all the tournaments and all the titles, and not one trip for Pete Sampras to his ancestral homeland, until now. The retired 14-time Grand Slam champion finally has come to Greece, for tennis and for personal reasons.

“This is about sharing some time with my folks in my mom’s homeland,” Sampras told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I’m going to go out and enjoy it. It’s a personal trip and obviously a professional trip, and I didn’t want to lose sight of either one.” “I’m here to explore my heritage more,” he added. “I’m proud to be here for the first time.”

sampras.jpg  Tennis legend Pete Sampras poses for a photograph in Athens on Tuesday, May 15, 2007. Sampras, who is of Greek descent, will play at the Athens Champions Cup tournament for former tennis greats between May 17 to 20, 2007.

Sampras’ mother, Georgia, left Greece with her six siblings when she was 25 and moved to Canada and then to the United States.

“Very much a big Greek family,” said the 35-year-old Sampras, whose father, Sam, was born in the United States to a Greek immigrant father. This trip is coinciding with Sam Sampras’ 70th birthday.

Sampras will be playing in a seniors tournament in Athens this week. He played for the last time on the tour in 2002 when he beat Andre Agassi in the U.S. Open final.

“I kind of regret stopping,” said Sampras, who will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, on July 14. Sampras will play in three Champions Cup events this year, he won in Boston this month and will head to Charlotte, N.C., in September.

“It is flattering knowing … that I can still be competitive,” said Sampras, who ruled out a return to the All England Club for a chance to win an eighth Wimbledon title. “I don’t want to tempt it.”

Since retiring, he has divided his time between a growing family, he and actress wife Bridgette Wilson have two young children, and non-tennis pursuits, such as working his golf game down to a 4 handicap. When he was still playing, Sampras’ stoicism and grit was legendary. He once beat Alex Corretja at the U.S. Open after vomiting on court during the fifth-set tiebreaker.

“I’m a bit like my mom as a competitor,” he said. “That toughness, dedication, competitiveness, to leave your homeland and not speak a word of English. That’s where I get a lot of my toughness, deep down in my belly.”

But his restraint kept him at a distance in the media.

“They wanted me to be someone I wasn’t, on and off the court. That’s not who I am. I’ve never been abrasive or brash,” Sampras said. “I just kept it pretty simple, pretty quiet. … I wasn’t going to sell out how I was raised, for more media coverage or more money.”

His game more than compensated for his lack of showbiz appeal. He finished as the top-ranked player for six straight years.

“It’s one thing to reach No. 1, but another to stay there, to dominate your generation, to stand the test of time,” Sampras said. “It was stressful. There were sleepless nights.”

One of his most memorable moments came at Wimbledon in 2000 when Sampras, battling injury, broke Roy Emerson’s record of 12 major victories.

“It was pretty painful. I almost had to withdraw from the tournament,” Sampras said. “I got injected with cortisone, but it was raining and it wore off. I remember just the pain, just getting through it, toughing it out. I was pretty amazed myself when I got through those two weeks.” 

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