I discovered him in the sports pages of the newspaper in the summer of ’94. He had won the Australian Open and was heading out to win Wimbledon the second year in a row. This was the pic that appeared in the paper. Who can resist that smile?
As the Wimbledon final approached, the sports pages filled with articles about the players and their preferences. At some point, Chang was asked Sampras’ weakness. He replied: ‘Sampras can’t cook.’ What did Sampras cook badly for Chang? Nothing, he said, he just knew he couldn’t cook, because he knew he had ‘someone else’ doing it for him, alluding to his girlfriend.
This had me extremely agitated. After spending two weeks fervently wishing he would win in any manner possible (including hoping that his opponents dropped to the ground for no apparent reason), I started wishing he would lose. I supported Goran Ivanisevic throughout the first two tense tie-breakers, then gave up halfway through the third set when it became clear that Pistol Pete wasn’t about to relinquish even a single game and was going to steamroll him 6-0.
I watched with broken heart as Pete strode up to the stands after his brilliant victory and hugged his then girlfriend, Delaina Mulcahy.
It took me hardly a few days to forgive him for this tremendous faux pas. I guess by that time I had realized it was only natural he would prefer a tanned beauty to a girl who’d just entered her teens and was living a few continents away.
Copping the flak
Whenever I professed my admiration for him in public circles, one of the main criticisms I had to contend with was the way he played with his tongue hanging out:
Don’t look at me. I found even this pose of his adorable.
The second criticism arose during the 1995 Australian Open match against Jim Courier. Pete’s coach Tim Gullikson was in hospital suffering from a stroke. A member of the audience cried out something like, ‘Do it for Tim, Pete!’, which prompted Pete to do this:
He returned from two sets down to win the match, albeit through a flurry of tears. I supported him through my tears too, and cheered when he won. I watched every match of his during that tournament by getting up at 5 am or some such ridiculous time when it was telecast live. My father mourned my dedication to Pete, and wished I would apply such devotion to my studies instead.
This was just the start of my lifelong infatuation with this great player. I could devote reams of pages to his skills, his temperament and his curly hair. Perhaps I’ll compose a part 2 of this, where I can tell you how his performance in a tournament affected my studies.
Anyone else out there missing a player out of action and wishing they’d jump back in the fray?