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Sampras takes his place in tennis' Hall of Fame today

After 14 Grand Slam tournament titles, he plans a no-frills induction speech.

July 14, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

There won't be any rambling John McEnroe-like induction speech -- which has gone down in tennis' Hall of Fame lore for its long-and-winding soliloquy.

No, Pete Sampras didn't copy Mac in terms of court decorum, and he's not about to start now, even from behind the microphone.

He'll keep it short and sweet, as simple as a Sampras point on grass.

"It's close to 10 minutes," Sampras said in an interview before his TeamTennis match Tuesday in Newport Beach. "I'm working on it. I'm done with it; now I've just got to deliver it -- that's where my wife comes into play."

He's going to the professional. His wife, actress Bridgette Wilson, will help him run the lines before today's ceremony at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I. And Sampras' longtime coach and friend Paul Annacone will be his presenter.

"It's basically saying thanks to my family, saying thanks to my wife, the coaches that have helped me over the years, how I've looked at the sport, what the sport has meant to me," he said. "And that's really it. It's just a time to say thanks to the people who have helped me get to where I wanted to be, and that was the Hall of Fame."

He headlines an illustrious induction class: Also entering the Hall of Fame will be Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario of Spain, a three-time French Open singles winner; Sven Davidson, the first Swede to win a Grand Slam tournament (the French in 1957); and photographer Russ Adams, who has been covering tennis for 50 years.

For the 35-year-old Sampras, it will be family and tennis world celebrating a remarkable career, which was hatched on Southern California hardcourts. The transformation was from a shy, skinny kid -- he hit with a two-handed backhand in his early junior days -- to the winner of a record 14 Grand Slam singles titles.

The 14 included seven Wimbledon championships. His final one on grass in the fading light against Patrick Rafter in 2000 and his last tournament, the U.S. Open victory against Andre Agassi in 2002, were the two he spoke about as being the most memorable.

"I never thought I'd win as many majors as I did," said Sampras, who won his first Slam, the U.S. Open, at 19. "As a kid, you dream about winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, but you never really think it's going to happen.... And by 23, I figured it out. I really felt like I'm going to be No. 1; I'm going to enjoy being No. 1."

He is realistic, though. Only two days after Roger Federer won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title (and 11th Slam title overall), Sampras didn't use the word if but said when Federer breaks his all-time mark.

The two men are planning to play exhibitions against each other in Asia this year -- a sign of the friendship that started in the spring when Federer sent Sampras a text message and asked him to hit with him.

"He was going to be in L.A. before Indian Wells, and I said, 'Let me check my schedule; let me see if I can find some room for you,' " Sampras said, joking. "He came by, and we hit for two days, and it was a lot of fun to not only hit with Roger, but to get to know him a little bit.

"We talked for two hours after one hit. He's a great guy; he's a funny guy. He's a young kid in a lot of ways. When he breaks my record, he's the type of person I'd like to see break it. In my opinion, he's what sports is all about."

Sampras could have been talking about himself. He'll be doing just that from the podium today.

"You know you kind of live your life taking care of your kids, and this gives me time to really stop everything and look back and appreciate what I've been able to do," he said. "You kind of lose sight of your identity at times, so this will be a chance to appreciate it."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

At the peak

Career facts and figures for Pete Sampras, who will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame today:

* Turned pro: 1988.

* Retired: 2002.

* Australian Open titles: 2 (1994, 1997).

* French Open titles: 0.

* Wimbledon titles: 7*

(1993-95; 1997-2000).

* U.S. Open titles: 5**

(1990, 1993, 1995-96, 2002).

* Total Grand Slam titles: 14*.

* Grand Slam finals record: 14-4.

* Career singles titles: 64.

* Career singles record: 762-222 (.776).

* Weeks ranked No. 1: 286*.

* Years ranked No. 1: 6* (1993-98).

* Career earnings: $43,280,489*.

*Most in open era (1968-present); ** tied with Jimmy Connors for most in open era.

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