Sampras continues clay-court follies at Roland Garros
Posted: Tuesday May 30, 2000 01:57 AM
By Desmond M. Wallace, CNNSI.comWhile Pete Sampras is one of the most dominant tennis players of any era, he has always been dominated by the red clay at the French Open.
Throughout his career, the 28-year-old Sampras has collected 62 singles titles, including a dozen Grand Slam championships, but curiously he has never won a title at Roland Garros.
In fact, Sampras' struggles on the clay have become so evident that not only has he made it past the quarterfinals just once in 11 French Opens, he has been bounced six times by the second round. Sampras continued the trend with his first-round loss to Mark Philippoussis.
By way of comparison to his Herculean feats at other major events, Sampras has won 143 of 161 (89 percent) of his singles matches at the Australian, U.S. Opens and Wimbledon. But at the French, Sampras has won only 69 percent.
Since reaching the semis back in 1996 before losing in straight sets to eventual champ Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Sampras has followed with two second-round exits and first- and third-round losses.
Each time, it has been to relative nobodys. In 1999, he lost to unseeded Andrei Medvedev. In '98, the top-seeded Sampras lost to 97th-ranked Ramon Delgado. Magnus Larsson stunned Sampras in '97.
The reason for Sampras' failures at the French would seem to be somewhat understandable.
Having not grown up playing on the red surface, Sampras never had the on-court experience that many European players have. Not surprisingly, then, of the three main outdoor surfaces, Sampras' career winning percentage is lowest on clay (.648).
Six of the last seven French Open champions are European-born where clay surfaces are far more prevalent.
Should he ever make it all of the way to the finals and somehow manage to win the event, Sampras will become just the sixth man in tennis history to win all four Grand Slam events.
And that would be quite a feat of clay.