Exclusive - Andre Agassi reveals what he thought of a young Pete Sampras...and it was not very flattering
As Andre Agassi watched 17-year-old Pete Sampras stumble and stagger his way through the early years of his professional career, he had no doubt that failure beckoned for him.
It was the early 1990s and Agassi was catching up with a kid he had seen showing some promise on a tennis court in their days playing junior tournaments.
Sampras was a quiet kid compared to the brash, bullish Agassi, who was already rising up the world rankings at a rapid rate and tearing up the tennis etiquette book on his trailblazing path to the top.
Back then, it was impossible to imagine that the novice Agassi was quick to write off as a no-hoper would go on to win 14 Grand Slam titles and become the greatest rival of what was his own glorious tennis career,
In an exclusive interview with Independent.ie, Agassi admits he was amazed by the transformation in Sampras's game as he fell victim to a champion who prevailed in 20 of the 34 games they played against each other. into a champion who won 20 of his 34 meetings with
How many Grand Slam titles would Agassi have to his name now if it wasn’t for that ‘loser’ Pete blocking his path?
It would certainly be well into double figures, with the icon who recently took on a part-time role coaching fallen world No.1 Novak Djokovic suggesting the Sampras story is an example to all.
"When Pete was 17-years-old, I watched him practice and I hadn’t seen him since he was a kid playing 12 and under tennis," begins Agassi, who struck a relaxed pose as we spoke in a side corner of the Wimbledon complex.
"I saw him at a professional tournament and I am like ranked three in the world at this time and all I could feel is sorry for him.
"I looked at him and thought this guy is not going to get anywhere. I feel so bad for him. He is not going to amount to anything.
"I mean, he can’t hit a backhand, he looks so lazy and thoughtless out there practicing and one day then he rolled over his arm, his serve starting flying and, more importantly, his mind went somewhere and looked what he achieved. You just don’t know who can do it, when it happens, but some guys explode and others never get there.
"There is an intangible factor that means you just don’t know how a player will develop.
"It’s a trampoline effect an some guys bounce on it and then you can’t stop them. Others you think are going to make it and they just fade. It’s that extra factor that you just cant seen that makes all the difference and turns a kid with potential into champions.
"Sometimes, they don’t know why they take that step. They just flip a switch somewhere and move from being good players to greats. You cannot teach it. Some people just have it.
"Tennis is a mix of mind, body and heart and there is a balance. You have to make sure more is going in that coming out. If you are in credit at the end of your career in terms of what you have put in and what has been taken out, then you can be satisfied."
This year’s Wimbledon Championships are winding toward a close with just one member of the fabled ‘Big Four’ of what has been a golden era of tennis still alive and kicking, with 35-year-old Roger Federer running clear of the sands of time for now as he chases his record breaking eighth title at the All England Club.
Men’s tennis will face a huge identity crisis when Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray hang up their racquets, with Agassi using the Sampras model to highlight wen it is tough to identify their successors as the kings of the sport.
“The four guys at the top of the game now cannot go on forever, so who is next,” ponders Agassi. "There is a big difference between who has the talent to succeed the big four at the top of the game now and who can actually do it.
“Like with Pete, it is not just talent because you need more than that to be a champion, so we have to wait and see what happens next.
“Nick Kygrois has a talent that is potentially unparalleled in the tennis world, but how much would you bet on him?
“Alex Zverev, that guy has a big game and he seems professional and focused, but there is so much that goes into the psyche of being the best versus trying to get there. At the moment, we are talking about talent, but you just can't say where there will take it.”
As Sampras proved, first impressions are not always lasting in a sporting career. It is a lesson many could follow.