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“French Open is the Toughest Slam to Win!”: When Pete Sampras Opened Up About His Clay Failures in 2000

Tanmay Roy

Legendary Tennis Moments: Pete Sampras Fires 130 MPH Rocket Serve That Broke Pat Rafter's Racquet

Pete Sampras dominated tennis mainly in the 90s decade and was considered the greatest player in the men’s sport by many commentators and fans. However, the only major blot in his career was the American never winning the French Open title. In the year 2000, Sampras candidly spoke about how difficult it is for any player to win the Grand Slam at Roland Garros.

With 2 Australian Opens, 7 Wimbledons, and 5 US Open titles, Sampras was exceptional on hard and grass courts. In comparison, his greatest rival Andre Agassi had only won 8 Grand Slams, but did breach the fortress in Paris in 1999. This gives Agassi the distinction of being the only American in 31 years to win the French Open men’s singles title and being considered in the same breath as Sampras.

Pete Sampras had a lot to say about his dismal performances at the French Open after initially dismissing all sorts of suggestions and questions from sharp journalists about his lack of consistency on clay. Sampras was quoted as saying in a media interaction before the start of the 2000 French Open (via ESPN) –

“The French Open is the toughest slam to win. There are so many great clay-court players. There are 30 guys who can win the French Open. There are so many dangerous floaters who can knock off the seeds.”

However, stating his then-current condition, Sampras was confident about winning since he felt he was doing fine on the surface. Interestingly, he enjoyed not being considered as the favorite to win.

“I’ll be tough to beat. Someone will have to play well to beat me. I’m looking forward to the challenge of not being a favorite,” Sampras added.

Unfortunately, for the American legend and his fans, Pete Sampras could not back up his words. Sampras lost to the man who went on to make it to the Wimbledon 2003 final as well, Mark Philippoussis of Australia, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-8 in the first round.

Although Sampras never won the title, there was one time when he reached very close to winning it. He looked very threatening that year.

Pete Sampras Came Awfully Close to Winning the French Open in 1996

In 1996, Pete Sampras reached the semifinals of the French Open. On the back of his Wimbledon and US Open wins from the 1995 season, Sampras looked in great touch in the clay court Grand Slam. He beat compatriot and 2-time French Open champion, Jim Courier 6-7 (4-7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. It was a great comeback after losing two sets on the trot.

However, his great run was over in the semifinals against Yevgeniy Kafelinikov of Russia. Sampras lost in straight sets, 6-7 (4-7), 0-6, 2-6 rather meekly. At the time, that was considered a big upset.

Kafelinikov went on to win the Grand Slam though, defeating Germany’s Michael Stich in the final too.

Coming back to Pete Sampras, he is not the only player considered as a legend who never won the French Open men’s singles title. Roger Federer’s idol, Stefan Edberg is on this list as well.

Owing to this, German star Boris Becker made a comment recently that grabbed many headlines. As a huge compliment to Rafael Nadal, Becker said that if players like Edberg and Sampras couldn’t win the French Open in their careers, winning it 14 times is an impossible feat that might never be broken.

Becker told CNN, “You win it five times, that’s a lot. You win it 10 times, it’s impossible. Nadal’s won it 14 times. I don’t know any other record in any other sport that equals that.”

He continued, “[Bjorn] Borg won it six times, which at the time was unheard [of], but [Pete] Sampras never won it, [Stefan] Edberg never won it, Becker never won it. So there’s no shame in not winning the French Open.”

Becker didn’t even hesitate to put himself among the category of his peers who never won the French Open.

While Americans have not been the favorites to win the French Open ever, this time presents a great opportunity for 5 US players – Sebastian Korda, Ben Shelton, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, and Taylor Fritz, to break the monotony.

Post Edited By:Dhruv Rupani

About the author

Tanmay Roy

Tanmay Roy


Tanmay Roy is a Tennis Journalist at The SportsRush, whose lifelong passion and zeal for the sport landed him this position. A writer with over 1000 articles under him, Tanmay fell in love with tennis in 2005 when Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final after a stunning three sets. Tanmay followed the likes of the Big Three - Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal from the mid-noughties to now. His interest was stronger than ever after the wonderful 2009 Wimbledon Final which saw Roger Federer win after a see-saw 5-set match. His favorite female tennis player is Serena Williams and Monica Seles. Tanmay's favorite match-up to date is Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick in the 2000s. If possible, the John Isner vs Nicolas Mahut first round match at the 2010 Wimbledon is the only match Tanmay would love to watch Live by going back in time. Of late, he is a huge fan of Jannik Sinner and believes the youngster has the potential to break every record.

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