Pete vs. Andre just wasn’t happening a couple of years ago due to a lack of Andre Agassi.
So, things were getting rather dull in men’s tennis and, well, if Patrick Rafter was willing to take shots at Pete Sampras, the media was willing to make the most of it.
The feud, if you can call it that, lacked the bite of John McEnroe vs. Jimmy Connors. But Rafter and Sampras--who play in today’s men’s final at Wimbledon--had a long stretch of tension, starting in 1997 and running through 1999. Sampras, who has been suffering from an inflamed left shin, will be trying to win his record 13th Grand Slam singles championship, surpassing Roy Emerson.
“We’re not the best of mates,” Rafter said of Sampras after 1997 Davis Cup semifinals. “I wouldn’t go out for a beer with him, put it that way. I don’t know what the story is. There’s a bit of feeling.”
A year later, there was controversy in Cincinnati when Sampras got upset about an overrule against him in the final with Rafter. Uncharacteristically, he lost his temper and later joked, pointedly, about the difference between himself and Rafter, saying: “Ten Grand Slams.”
Rafter made it nine by winning the U.S. Open in 1998, defeating an injured Sampras in the semifinals. In 1999, Rafter became No. 1 and spoke about Sampras.
“He really does say some funny things at the wrong time,” Rafter said then. “We are out there busting our guts and he doesn’t show a lot of respect at the end of the day. He tries to play down the reason why he lost, giving no respect to the other player, and that is what really upsets me about him and the reason I try to [anger him] as much as I can.”
This led to headlines in Australian newspapers and Rafter called Sampras a couple of days later and “patched things up.” Sampras said that their relationship is “fine.”
Rafter said he thought former Australian Rules Football player Brett Stephens, who has been Sampras’ trainer, has made a difference.
“I think Brett’s actually helping Pete come out of his shell a little bit and be very open,” Rafter said. “I’ve noticed a change this year. And we’ve actually had a few conversations, because we’ve had our differences.
“I think we’ve had more respect for each other off the court, as well as we obviously have respect for each other on the court. It’s a nice thing to have because we can actually sit down and have a chat. And I quite like the guy.”
Perhaps Sampras and Rafter have more in common than they realized. They both recovered from serious, career-threatening injuries. Sampras hurt his back and withdrew from the U.S. Open last year, and that same night Rafter was forced to retire from his first-round match because of a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.
Rafter decided to fly his parents, Jim and Jocelyn, in from Brisbane for the final, a 20-hour-plus journey. They will arrive this morning. Rafter’s father has not seen him play in years.
Sampras also had his parents travel from Los Angeles for the potentially historic occasion. Sam and Georgia Sampras arrived Saturday, and they have never seen their son, a six-time champion, play at Wimbledon.
Sampras is 9-4 against Rafter but has won only one of their last four matches. Because of the injury, Sampras has not practiced on off days between matches but finally had a light workout Saturday. He has been receiving painkilling shots before matches, which could be problematic because rain is forecast and there could be several delays today.
Rafter, trying to become the first player to beat Agassi and Sampras in the same Grand Slam tournament, is trying to harness his emotions.
“It would be really easy for me to be right over the top now and just say, ‘I’m so happy, blah, blah, blah,’ ” he said. “But I just want to try and control the emotions and act as if I haven’t been out [injured], and this is just another normal tournament for me. Obviously, this is Wimbledon. It’s going to be different when I walk out.
“I’m going to have to bow. I haven’t done that too many times.”
Sampras vs. Rafter Head-to-head results of Pete Sampras and Patrick Rafter. Sampras leads, 9-4:
Year Tournament Surface Round Winner Scores 1993 Indianapolis hard court quarterfinals Rafter 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5) 1994 Tokyo Outdoor hard court quarterfinals Sampras 6-1, 5-7, 6-1 1995 Indian Wells hard court round of 16 Sampras 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-1 1996 Hong Kong hard court round of 16 Sampras 6-3, 7-6 (1) 1997 Philadelphia hard court final Sampras 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-3 1997 Cincinnati hard court round of 16 Sampras 7-6 (4), 6-4 1997 Davis Cup hard court Sampras 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 1997 Grand Slam Cup carpet final Sampras 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 1997 ATP Finals hard court round robin Sampras 6-4, 6-1 1998 Cincinnati hard court final Rafter 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4 1998 U.S. Open hard court semifinals Rafter 6-7 (8), 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 1999 World Team Cup clay round robin Rafter 6-3, 7-5 1999 Cincinnati hard court final Sampras 7-6 (7), 6-3