Sampras spent a laborious six weeks playing indoor tournaments in Europe to grab the pole position in Hannover. At 27 he has earned more than $34 million in prize money alone, so his current efforts have little to do with lucre. Sampras wants to be known as the greatest player ever: the Michael Jordan of tennis.
For six years he has defended his ranking while avoiding major injuries and keeping an international schedule that constantly invites jet lag. "I guess it would be like the Chicago Bulls winning the NBA title six years in a row, but I'm not sure even that compares," Sampras's coach, Paul Annacone, says. "It's so hard for a player, playing by himself, to keep the same goal for six years."
The indoor surface at Hannover seemed to favor Sampras in his goal of remaining ahead of No. 2 Marcelo R�os (chart, left), who has yet to win a Grand Slam event. "It's the eight best guys of the year, and Pete really gets up for that," Annacone says. In 1996 Sampras had already clinched the top ranking for the year when he deflated the host country by beating Boris Becker in a five-set marathon in the final. Last year Patrick Rafter needed only to win a set against Sampras in Hannover's round-robin format to qualify for the second round. Sampras took great delight, just as Jordan would have, in clobbering him 6-4, 6-1.
Like Jordan, Sampras is always looking for new sources of motivation. Earlier this month at the Paris Open he noted that zero U.S. reporters were there to chronicle his quest for the record. He was reportedly miffed that his feat was being ignored during the year that so much has been made of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Altogether a bad sign for R�os.
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