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For Pete's Sake : Old-Fashioned Sam and Georgia Sampras Keep in Background as Their Son Basks in U.S. Open Glory

September 20, 1990|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The family roots of Soterios (Sam) Sampras are Chicago via Greece, Poland and Ellis Island. Georgia, from a family of 10, was born in Salasia, near Sparta, Greece.

He became a mechanical engineer. She came to the United States in 1960 as a beautician. They met at the Washington hotel where she worked, married a year later and have lived thoroughly ever since.

The eldest in their family is Gus, 22, who recently graduated with a degree in finance from Cal State Long Beach. Gus is busy with his first client--brother Pete, tennis' latest teen-age millionaire.

Stella, 21, is a senior at UCLA with training and talents splitting in interesting directions--a psychology career up one road and along the other, the women's tennis circuit, where she is a nationally ranked amateur. Then there's Marion, 16, a member of the Palos Verdes High School tennis team.

The family attends the Greek Orthodox Church in Redondo Beach and gathers for Thanksgiving and mourns the death of a godparent together. Georgia is its gentle matriarch. Dad is working closer to early retirement from his job as a civilian project manager for the Titan missile program at USAF Space Division, El Segundo.

Pete Sampras is just as everyday. Despite a new annual income close to a respectable Lotto win, he does not own a car and still lives at home where sister Stella has commandeered his room. However, Pete's poster of a Lamborghini Countach sports car remains.

He does not have a girlfriend. His choice in music runs to Cat Stevens, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Paul Simon and other antediluvians. He is a tennis classicist with a one-handed backhand and a game modeled on its immortals. That his temperament matches theirs also is by design.

On court, Sampras heaviest emotion is a half frown, then a full smile at his blunders. He has yet to spit at an umpire. He doesn't even wear a gold necklace where the poundage seems to measure a player's ATP ranking. Or line of credit.

"I don't like him to wear a chain," said his mother. "But I'd like him to wear a little cross."

Bob Kramer, executive director of the Southern California Tennis Assn. and son of tennis legend Jack Kramer, sees Sampras and his parents as "simple, refreshing people of traditional values.

"Just like my dad, the son of a railroad man who still calls everybody 'sir.' Compared to other youngsters in the game today, Pete Sampras is one of the most unaffected players to come along since Stan Smith."

Jim Hillman, a director of junior tennis tournaments in Southern California, has known Sampras since he was 12. "Very, very polite, friendly, a little shy and no problem on the court . . . . And I'd be glad to have him as my son."

Writing in the current issue of Sports Illustrated, Alexander Wolff notes that Sampras splits the difference between the pious Michael Chang and the ostentatious Agassi.

Hence his welcome arrival to world tennis, a sport growing increasingly top heavy with temperament, confrontation and rebellious teen-agers dedicated more to the soundness of their financial investments than the purity of the sport.

Not that Sampras didn't splurge after his successes at the U.S. Open and a winner's purse of $350,000.

"After beating Lendl (in the quarterfinals), the next day I went shopping at Gresham Bros., a nice store in New York," he said. "I bought a suit because that's something I'll need in the future."

What he really doesn't need, he said, is to spend money on some expensive sports car. Peg that reluctance to a healthy spot of sibling rivalry. "Right now, I'm really not home that much," he explained. Then came the chuckle. "If I do get, say, a Porsche, my brother (Gus) would be driving it all the time. I'd come home and there would be 20,000 miles on it because he's been going to Las Vegas and back."

Pete Sampras would genuinely like to see his chosen sport return to that all-white era of laminated wooden racquets requiring finer margins of touch than today's computer-designed clubs of graphite.

He plays yesterday's game with today's technology. His 122-m.p.h. serve is not designed to get the ball in play but to punch a hole through his opponent's strings. He has the full inventory of strokes and a permanent itch.

"When I see a ball sitting up there, I have this urge to bash it," he said. "I want to bring back the serve-and-volley game, the one (Rod) Laver and (Ken) Rosewall and Kramer played. I've always liked the attitude of Laver, his fairness, his sportsmanship."

It was Sunday at North Ranch Country Club in Westlake Village. Later, Sampras would play an exhibition, honoring a commitment made months before he found world fame in less than a fortnight.

He would also lose this charity match by a tie breaker to Brad Gilbert, friend and fellow pro.

Shy with strangers, yet quick and funny with friends, Sampras spoke of a week crammed with public adulation, his form on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the inconvenience of immediate recognition and how he was looking forward to more even times.

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