26 AUGUST 2003
Tennis legend Pete Sampras, arguably the greatest player ever, bade farewell to the sport he dominated for a decade with tears in his eyes and the unstinted praise of other champions echoing in his ears.
The 32-year-old winner of 14 Grand Slam titles bowed out at a special ceremony at the start of the US Open, surrounded by his family - wife Bridgette and baby son Christian - and top tennis names like Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.
"Pete is the best I have ever played. Of course I will miss him," said Andre Agassi. Boris Becker joked about Wimbledon, "It was my house until you came along. I want my key back." And McEnroe admitted that he'd unsuccessfully tried to serve and hit like Sampras, adding: "I tried to act like you. Needless to say, I failed at that."
The big-hitting, cool-headed champion played his last match, a resounding US Open victory over Andre Agassi, in 2002. It marked his fifth title at the tournament and made him, at 31, the oldest player ever to triumph in the competition.
Pete has not yet revealed what the future holds for him, apart from a larger slice of family life. His farewell ceremony moved him to tears, but in typical pragmatic style he refused to accept that he was the greatest player of all time. However, he did admit, "At times, I felt like I was playing perfect tennis."