Pete Sampras was one of the greatest players of all time. We will take a look at the Pete Sampras Biography and analyze his game in detail!
Born in 1971, Sampras was part of a very strong generation of American players that included Andre Agassi, Michael Chang and Jim Courier. Sampras comes from a Greek immigrant family that was trying to make it in the United States.
As a junior Pete usually played one or two age divisions up and therefore didn’t have phenomenal results.
He also changed his backhand from two-handed to one-handed at the age of 13, which initially resulted in lots of losses!
Once he mastered the one-hander, he became one of the best juniors in the country though and won the US Open Junior Championships in 1987 against Michael Chang.
In 1988 he first appeared on the ATP Tour and finished the year inside the Top100 players in the world! He won his first title in 1990 in Philadelphia and since then he has won an overall of 64 career singles titles.
Before Roger Federer broke the record in 2009, Pete Sampras held the record for most grand slam singles titles with 14!
In the later stages of his career many people considered him the greatest player of all time.
Throughout his career he developed an incredible rivalry with Andre Agassi. The two played some unbelievable tennis against each other and Sampras won 20 of the 34 matches they played, including a few unforgettable matches at the US Open!
Let’s break down Pete’s game in the context of the four areas of Tennis. But first let’s have a look at his incredible serve in slow motion:
The Sampras Serve: Probably the best serve in tennis history!
What a great fluid service motion!
Pete Sampras is another Robert Lansdorp student. Lansdorp is a famous coach from Southern California who is known to teach great groundstrokes to his students.
Pete hits his forehand rather flat with a more conservative grip. This is a great fit for his overall game plan to get to the net as often and quick as possible!
Pete’s forehand was a major weapon throughout his career. He runs around his backhand a lot and hits an incredible forehand on the run which makes it very tough for opponents to get to his backhand!
The Running forehand: One of Pete’s best shots
Let’s look at the technical details that make Pete’s forehand so strong. Typical for a Lansdorp student, Pete hits a rather flat forehand that really penetrates the court.
Looking at his swing shape, you will see that the racket moves forward still long after contact and he does not use much of the so-called windshield wiper motion!
Pete also achieves a high finish position on most forehand shots which results in great depth.
Overall a great classical forehand which is actually a good model for most recreational players to copy!
To learn more about great tennis stroke mechanics visit the Tennis Video Instruction page on this website!
Pete’s backhand was the shot that he struggled with at times throughout his career. Nonetheless he could also hit incredible backhand winners.
From a purely technical standpoint, I think that there were a few minor issues with his one-handed topspin backhand.
His backhand does have a nice inside-out swing path to it.
Unfortunately though, Pete tends to lead with the elbow of his right arm and his hitting arm is not straight at contact!
This will often lead to swinging too much left to right which then leads to the body rotating too early in the swing. (There is very little body rotation involved in the one-hander usually!)
Also Pete does not manage to keep his head still throughout the contact phase at times. All of these factors are of course interrelated and can easily result in mishits or a lack of depth.
Now again I want to emphasize that Pete still has a solid backhand! Relatively speaking though it was the stroke that he struggled with most and I believe the technical factors mentioned above are the reason for that!
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Pete sliced his backhand a big percentage of the time throughout his career.
His slice went through the court really fast after the bounce which made it very effective!
He also used the slice to come in to the net extremely well!
Again there are a few technical factors that I believe explain why his slice was so effective. When hitting slice backhands, Sampras kept the racket face relatively closed throughout contact. (Ideally the racket face is only slightly open on slice backhands. 10 degrees open is a good approximation in my opinion!)
So essentially he did not chop down on the ball very much but rather moved the racket relatively straight through the contact zone. This results in slice backhands that stay very low and fast after the bounce.
Pete was known to be a great net player!
His volleys were some of the best in the history of the game and combined with his incredible athleticism this made it very difficult for opponents to get past him once he established position at the net!
When talking about his net game and volleys, it is important to also talk about his overhead. Pete was unbelievably quick moving back for overheads and this allowed him to really close in on the net like probably no other player before him!
Technically speaking Pete had all the factors necessary
for great volley technique!
In order to volley well you need to be able to stabilize the racket face at contact. In order to achieve this, your racket face should only be slightly open at contact. Pete achieved this on forehand and backhand volleys.
Almost as important in playing the net effectively is great technique in using your legs. When volleying, you should try to volley more with your legs and less with your arms. The arms simply perform a small pushing motion. Pete Sampras was incredible at this!
He managed to make really good use of his legs to move through as many volleys as possible. Overall I think Pete was one of the best net players in the history of the game!
Pete Sampras probably had the most effective serve
in the history of the game!
Throughout his career he dominated entire matches with his serve! What made his serve so tough was the combination of speed and spin.
Researchers found out that Pete’s serve was similar to other great servers in terms of speed but he added significantly more spin to his serves at the same speed as other servers! This is a similar effect to what we have seen with Rafael Nadal and his forehand. He plays the same speed as most other guys but adds more spin, which makes it so difficult to play against his forehand.
From a technical standpoint Pete has a great service motion of course. There are some factors though that are unique to him and are partly because of his incredible athleticism. Other pro players have not been able to copy him in this regard and recreational players certainly should not try to copy his service motion!
Before we analyze the technical details have a look
at his serve in slow motion again!
The first thing people will notice is his extreme body rotation. Pete turns away from the net, facing his back to the net during the initial phase of his motion!
This is one of the commonalities among great servers. But before you try to copy Pete, remember that this is very dependent on athleticism and coordination. In my video series I will show a step by step system for developing these types of biomechanical features in your serve!
The next thing to look at is the racket drop position. By this I mean the lowest point that the tip of his racket reaches.
When you watch closely you can see that the tip of his racket goes well below his waist level at the lowest point!
This gives him a very long acceleration phase to contact. Again this is dependent on shoulder strength and flexibility as well as technique.
Most people will not be able to physically reach this kind of position. Nevertheless everyone should of course try to reach the best possible position. Pete Sampras does many other things well on his serve like pronation and elbow extension.
One interesting thing to look at though is his body position at contact. His upper body is still facing towards the right net post. One of the biggest problems for recreational players is that they open up too much too early and their upper bodies are parallel to the net already at contact!
Pete was very strong on the tactical side of the game as well!
His game plan was built around his powerful serve
and coming in to the net as often as possible.
Like almost all great Champions, Pete Sampras would usually force his game style onto his opponents. Because of his great serve, Pete would often simply go for broke on return games.
Basically his idea was that he would hold serve anyways and if he would have only one service game in the set where he made a few phenomenal shots in a row he had a good chance to break his opponents. Even if that didn’t work out there was always a tiebreak which he was usually the big favourite to win.
This strategy was very difficult for opponents because they had a hard time finding any kind of rhythm!
Also they could be easily winning their service games but then on one service game Pete would nail two returns with very high risk and all of a sudden these guys were under tremendous pressure knowing that it was almost impossible to break Pete once he go the lead!
Pete was aware that his topspin backhand was not as strong as the backhands of most of his opponents. Therefore he sliced a lot from the baseline and used his great movement around the court to wait for opportunities to come in or hit big forehands. This game plan was a great fit for his technical and physical abilities!
A lot of people never realized what a phenomenal athlete Pete Sampras was during his prime years!
I believe his athleticism was probably the most underrated part of his game.
When it comes to athleticism, Pete had everything a tennis player could desire. He had incredible strength allowing him to hit the ball extremely hard. Additionally, he was a phenomenal mover around the tennis court. His net coverage through the use of his strong legs was by far the best I have ever seen!
In 2008, I spent a few days with Pat Etcheberry, who was Pete’s physical trainer for many years. Pat said that he had never seen anybody as athletic in Tennis as Pete Sampras.
Supposedly, Pete could throw a football similar to the way NFL players throw the football! This explained in Pat’s opinion, and I would agree with this, why Pete could serve so well. His shoulder was incredibly flexible and strong at the same time. This allowed him to really pre-stretch the muscles responsible for internal shoulder rotation; one of the biggest power sources in serving!
Pete’s mental strength in crucial situations was unbelievable. A lot of this had to do with the extreme confidence that he had in his serve.
Probably no other player in the history of the game was able to get himself out of trouble with the serve like Pete Sampras!
When it mattered most, his serve was usually at its best.
Even though Pete might not have appeared like a great fighter to everyone watching, he certainly was a tremendous fighter and competitor on the inside. Similar to Roger Federer these days, Pete Sampras usually seemed to be able to add another gear whenever necessary.
Ranking Pete’s skills is extremely difficult. He is incredibly strong in all four areas!
I believe that his superiority in terms of athleticism (which includes shoulder strength and flexibility for his serve) was the number one reason for his success!