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How to return Pete Sampras's serve
June 25, 2001
Next week Pete Sampras begins his quest for a record eighth Wimbledon singles title. One key to his success on the All England Club's slick grass courts is his booming serve; in seven Wimbledon finals, Sampras has lost four service games. Here's a step-by-step guide to neutralizing the greatest weapon of Wimbledon's greatest champion.
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June 25, 2001

How To Return Pete Sampras's Serve

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Next week Pete Sampras begins his quest for a record eighth Wimbledon singles title. One key to his success on the All England Club's slick grass courts is his booming serve; in seven Wimbledon finals, Sampras has lost four service games. Here's a step-by-step guide to neutralizing the greatest weapon of Wimbledon's greatest champion.

1. Crowd the baseline
By hitting the return on the rise, you cut off the angled serves. Says Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe, "If he sees you're standing far back, he can slice it or kick it." The downside is you have even less time to react to his 120-mph blasts.

2. Cheat to the center
Sampras hits his biggest serves down the middle. He can go wide, but that serve, as McEnroe notes, "is not as effective as the bomb up the middle."

3. Get ahead in the count
Even to think of breaking Sampras, you have to win at least two of the first three points in a game. Fall behind, and he has too many options. But if you can get to 15-30, you force him to be more conservative. How are you supposed to win those crucial first points? Well....

4. Every now and then, guess
Pick a direction and break that way early. You'll at least have a fighting chance at stealing a point. "If I don't guess, I'm not going to win the point anyway," says Justin Gimelstob, who snagged a set from Sampras at last year's Wimbledon. "But if I guess right, at least I can get a decent hit at the ball."

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