Sampras and `Greatest Ever’ title belong together

Emily Arthur

His hair might be a little thinner, his feet not as quick as they used to be and his serve may have lost some of its velocity, but let me quiet the debate: Pete Sampras is (and probably always will be) the greatest tennis player of all time.

There is virtually no argument when it comes to ranking the best players of Sampras’ generation; his name quickly rises to the top.

But debate does arise when ranking Sampras among other tennis greats like Rod Laver, Roy Emmerson, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors.

Although all were great players and legends in their own right, there is one thing that separates Sampras from the rest – the number 13 – the number of Grand Slams he has won.

A number which ranks him first all-time, right ahead of Emmerson.

“Sampras is the greatest of all time,” Emmerson once said. “And I have to give him a pat on the back for getting there.”

The man who held the Grand Slam record for 33 years is giving Sampras, a player who held the No. 1 ranking from 1993 to 1998, the credit he deserves.

So should others.

Sampras has often been criticized for not winning the French Open.

He’s won the US Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon, but the title on the clay at Roland Garros has alluded him.

In a magazine article in 2000, numerous former top-touring pros gave their opinion on the greatest-ever debate.

Cliff Drysdale said “yes” to Sampras being the greatest.

“When you consider the level of competition on the men’s tour today, and the number of excellent players around, you have to consider him the best,” Drysdale said. “And I don’t think that it is necessary for him to win the French to earn that title.”

Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg agreed, but Guy Forget may have said it best.

“It’s hard to say. You can’t compare different eras and the number of titles,” he said.

To judge Sampras’ failure to win the French Open would be like trying to compare the talent in tennis now to the talent present when Laver once took the court.

Nearly impossible.

Talent can’t be measured.

And when you consider that only five male players have ever won all four Grand Slam tournaments, Sampras not winning the French doesn’t seem as big of a slight on his r‚sum‚ as it would otherwise be.

The sports world will give Sampras his proper place in history when he eventually retires from the game, whether it be this year, the next or eight years from now. But there will always be the debate to whether he deserves to be considered the best ever.

Sampras has been dominant in the most competitive of decades where there has been true depth.

His fluent service action, flowing ground strokes and excellent control of volleys makes him the best ever to play the game of tennis.

And although it shouldn’t factor into the equation when ranking the best of all time, his easy-going personality, pleasant manner and dedication to the game makes him that much easier to like, and if not like, definitely respect.

The debate will probably continue to rage on year after year, tournament after tournament until one day when maybe, just possibly, Sampras’ name will come up and the title “The Greatest Ever” will be placed in the same sentence.

Until then, critics and players alike will have their opinions.

“I put him in the godlike stratosphere with Laver and Borg,” McEnroe said. “You have to put those people in the upper echelon.”

Emily Arthur

is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Clark, S.D. She is the sports editor of the Daily.