Just inside Pete Sampras's front door in his cushy Beverly Hills house is a case of unopened cans of tennis balls.
"We give them to our friends who have dogs," says his wife, the actress Bridgette Wilson.
Suddenly, she stops and covers her mouth. "Oops! Did I say that out loud?"
It's the worst-kept secret in tennis. The greatest player who ever lived has quit, without a parade, without a tour, without a goodbye. He has taken his record 14 Grand Slam singles titles and his unseeable serve and called it an era. He's traded his Wilson for his Wilson.
O.K., Sampras says there's a "five percent" chance he could come back and maybe play Wimbledon in 2004. "I think I could win another Wimbledon if I wanted to," he says, "but the problem is wanting to." The way his nose wrinkles when he talks about it, you get the feeling he'd loofah-scrub Al Roker first.
"It's weird to say, but I'm content," Sampras says. "I'm happy. I've got nothing left to prove to myself. That's a big statement. I'm coming to terms with it, you know? I'm like, 'I'm stopping?' But there's nothing left in tennis I want to achieve."
So winning at least one French Open means nothing to you? "If it did, I'd have been there this year," he says flatly.
Now wait a minute! You just don't do this in America! Not at 31! You don't just stop! You're supposed to keep striving, wanting, aching to be more, better, greater. In this country the day you buy your Saab 900 is the day you start working your buns off toward the Saab 9000. The carrot is for chasing, not eating, damn it!
"I know," he says with a grin. "It's crazy, huh?"
So the final act was his smash hit: the unforgettable Big Fat Greek Upset over Andre Agassi in the finals of the 2002 U.S. Open, when the 17th-seeded Sampras climbed into the stands to hug the person whom the media had blamed for his 26-month winless streak—his pregnant wife.