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Alone, At the Top
S.L. Price
July 14, 1997
Wimbledon, which he won with majestic ease, showed that Pete Sampras may be the best tennis player ever—and that there's no American remotely like him on the horizon
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July 14, 1997

Alone, At The Top

Wimbledon, which he won with majestic ease, showed that Pete Sampras may be the best tennis player ever—and that there's no American remotely like him on the horizon

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He told no one else—not DePalmer, not any official at the All England Club and not former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich, who, in a sad coincidence for Germany, would himself retire after losing in the semifinals to Pioline. Becker won four matches at Wimbledon, all in straight sets, but had no chance against Sampras's serve and felt oddly at peace about it. During a three-hour rain delay in their match, he sat up in the royal box, alone, reading Norman Mailer's account of the 1974 Ali-Foreman fight in Zaire and stealing glances at Centre Court. Later, when his final backhand flew long and he shook Sampras's hand and began walking off the court, only Sampras had any idea what had just happened. "I was floored," Sampras said later.

Twice, Becker turned to the unsuspecting crowd and bowed deeply. An hour later he was walking fast through the grounds toward Gate 13 with that familiar rolling gait, bag over his shoulder, the milling crowds not recognizing him until he had passed. His face was blank, but with each step closer to the black iron doors he thought, This is it. The last time. The last time.

"I'm glad I made it out alive, to tell you the truth," Becker said that night. "There were difficult times. I played 14 years in a row. The first ones were very hectic, and all of a sudden I became a star, and I didn't know how to handle everything. I was always praying that I somehow would have a long career, and I managed to do that without any major scars in my soul. I'm not drug-addicted, I'm not alcoholic, I'm not three times divorced. I'm quite normal. I manage to have a quite normal life. For me that was always my biggest achievement."

A lone woman saw Becker just as he left Wimbledon, and she applauded. He didn't slow down.

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