In perfect conditions Sampras can sleep 11 hours. But it is a princess-and-the-pea ordeal. The room must be totally dark. If there is a light on a clock radio, he covers it with a towel. The red light on the TV cable box, too, must be blotted out. He draws the curtains tightly, and then he attacks the thermostat, cranking the temperature down to a cavelike chill. "Room temperature makes me sweat," he says. At last he climbs into bed—and the sheets must be perfectly smooth, without a wrinkle.
There is one more requirement: "No one can touch me." His live-in companion, Delaina Mulcahy, is ordered to a safe distance. "Neutral corners," he declares.
So there. A bona fide Sampras quirk. Everybody happy now?
Underneath that older-than-his-years detachment Sampras is nothing but feelings and quirks. He is terrified of dogs; it's a real phobia. His stomach is temperamental. So are his feet, which are constantly troubled by tendinitis and require ultrastiff supports in his sneakers. Sampras's feet are so tender, he had to take a six-week break from the tour this summer, and he entered the U.S. Open having played only two Davis Cup matches since winning Wimbledon.
When he appeared on the Letterman show five days after that victory, Sampras revealed a wise-guy attitude lurking beneath his stiff demeanor. He cracked up the host with his imitation of Barbra Streisand cheering for Andre Agassi. "Come on, 'Dre. Come on, honey," Sampras cooed.
Still, Sampras can almost understand why the "bring label has persisted. "People today want controversy," he says. Sampras does nothing to help himself with a posture that borders on the depressive and an attitude that is beyond unassuming. When he walks by, head hanging, you can almost hear people thinking. That's him? Come on. He looks like my Labrador. "You look at some people, and they're on edge, and you can tell they're geniuses," Sampras says. "If someone met me, they wouldn't suspect it."
Sometimes Sampras doesn't even get noticed. He was relaxing in first class on a flight from Los Angeles back to Tampa last year when he realized he was sitting right behind Barry Bonds. "I recognized him by his earring," Sampras says. Bonds just went on signing autographs and chatting with a guy sitting across the aisle from Sampras. Finally Bonds gave Sampras a look. Sampras waited for the recognition to come. Bonds turned back to his companion across the way and said, "If this kid moves, then you could sit over here."
Sampras wordlessly rose and changed seats. For the whole four-hour flight he just meekly ate his meal and watched the movie. "It was interesting and weird and funny, and I kind of liked it," he says.
Sampras neither cultivates nor flees his celebrity. He seeks only serenity. He and Mulcahy live in a pleasant three-bedroom house on a golf course outside Tampa. The house, which is 5,000 square feet but not exceptionally luxurious, has the requisite swimming pool, pocket-billiards table and even a goldfish pond, but it is nothing compared to Wade Boggs's spread next door, which is four times as large.
Sampras barely touches his wealth—$10,273,112 in career prize money plus an estimated $2 million a year in endorsements. He tells his agents at IMG, "Just make sure I have enough for the rest of my life." Even his idea of celebrating another Grand Slam tournament title is moderate. He flies home to Tampa and greases out at Checkers or Fuddruckers, busting his low-fat training diet wide open with a cheeseburger. "Then he feels sick," his brother says.