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Yuki Bhambri’s Sporting Hero: The stylish, all-round Pete Sampras

Bhambri grew up admiring Sampras’ calmness on the court and cherishes the tips the Grand Slam champion gave him.

By Rahul Venkat and Subhayan Dutta ·

While Roger Federer may now be the undisputed ‘King of Grass’, before him the title belonged to American legend Pete Sampras.

Sampras - with his powerful serves and graceful, quick returns – had a playing style best suited to the fast nature of grass surfaces and it reflected in his once-record seven Wimbledon singles titles.

Widely regarded as one of the best players of all time, Pete Sampras dominated grass and hard courts in the 1990s, even holding the record for most men’s Grand Slam singles titles (14) before it was broken by Federer in 2009.

Pete Sampras’ cool and easy-going nature endeared him to audiences around the world. And Indian tennis player Yuki Bhambri was equally enthralled during his formative years.

“I started watching tennis when he was at his peak and I became a fan immediately,” Bhambri revealed in a chat with the Olympic Channel.

“I think I saw him play on TV for the first time during his third Wimbledon title year. We as a family used to watch Wimbledon every July and incidentally, Sampras was the one winning regularly. So, he was my hero growing up.”

Pete Sampras won seven Wimbledon singles titles.

A classic player

Pete Sampras was renowned for his powerful and fast serves - he was nicknamed Pistol Pete - often relying on them to get himself out of tough situations.

It was a gift that allowed him to develop an offensive style, which involved multiple serve-and-volleys, where Sampras ensured his opponent was out of balance while returning his serve and charged forward to finish off points at the net.

Sampras was also capable of pulling off some excellent passing forehand and backhand winners, making him a well-rounded player and the style appealed to a young Yuki Bhambri.

“I think the way he played was phenomenal. Sampras was just a great serve-and-volley player, he had aggressive gameplay,” said Bhambri.

“He was great at his craft and I really enjoyed watching him play.”

Pete Sampras was renowned for his classic serve-and-volleys.

Being calm the key

Along with his racquet skills, one other thing that stood out about Pete Sampras was the way he carried himself on the pitch.

Often a picture of calmness and rarely one to show emotion at winning or losing points, Sampras was the epitome of a gentleman and it is a quality Yuki Bhambri wanted to emulate.

“I think his cool-headedness under pressure bailed him out on countless occasions through his career. You could see that in his serves and groundstrokes, he never lost confidence in them and that was admirable,” stated Bhambri.

Incidentally, the Indian tennis player got to witness Pete Sampras’ genius live on the court with him.

“I got to play doubles alongside him at an exhibition event (Tennis Showdown) in Macau in 2009. On the opposite side was Andre Agassi and that surely is one of my most cherished memories,” Bhambri reminisced.

“Of course, Sampras had been out of the game for a while by then, but he observed me play and shared a few tips and tricks on how to improve. I obviously asked him about his serves and how difficult it was to stay at the top.

“Sampras is exactly the same person off court as he was on it – very calm and welcoming. It was an amazing experience for me.”

That cool demeanour and level-headedness have especially helped Yuki Bhambri in the past couple of years.

Once ranked world No. 83, Bhambri has been out of the game since 2018 after tearing a tendon on his right knee.

There were issues with the initial diagnosis and only after consulting with Rafael Nadal’s doctor was Yuki Bhambri able to begin his rehabilitation.

The lockdown in the past year has allowed him the time he needed to recover and regain fitness without affecting competition and Bhambri is aiming to get back to competition in January 2021.

If all goes well, Yuki Bhambri could be seen in action at the Australian Open in February, where he may gain entry using his protected ranking (which allows injured players to keep their rank pre-injury) and gradually return to normal competition.