“A Champion’s Mind” by Pete Sampras and Peter Bodo
June 10, 2008
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
Pete Sampras retired from tennis holding the record for most career Grand Slam victories and his journey to setting that record is chronicled here in his autobiography that covers his tennis career. I added that last phrase to the sentence because unlike most biographies or autobiographies on athletes, this book focuses solely on his tennis career. There are stories about his childhood, but they are about the development of his game during his youth when he was a tennis “prodigy.” What is refreshing, however, is that he doesn’t complain about any bad breaks during his youth. There are no bad parent stories as can be so common in tennis (think of the parent stories of tennis stars such as Mary Pierce, Jennifer Capriati or the Williams sisters). There isn’t even talk of his struggles. It reads that Sampras is aware that he had a talent for the game, that he was raised comfortably and is appreciative of what his parents provided for him.
That appreciation also transcends to his coaches during adulthood. He gives credit to Pete Fisher for helping develop his game although Sampras believes the athlete is ultimately responsible for his or her success. He speaks almost with reverence about Tim Gullickson who ultimately succumbed to brain cancer (more about this relationship later). Sampras also talks much about Paul Annacone and his coaching and friendship as being another key component to the success he had on the court.
Because Sampras talks tennis and little else in this book, there is rich detail in many aspects of his game. Not only match highlights, but he talks much about his mindset to reach certain goals. From a teenager who burst into the spotlight with his 1990 U.S. Open title up to his last Grand Slam, the 2002 U.S. Open, the reader will follow Sampras’s career and what he did physically and mentally to achieve the greatness that he attained.
Two passages that resonated with me were actually connected to each other. The first one is a moment that anyone who saw it while watching this match like I did will remember. During a match against Jim Courier in the 1995 Australian Open, Sampras broke down and was openly crying. He had just learned of Gullickson’s terminal diagnosis and the emotional toll on him finally broke through. This changed the minds of some media members who felt that Sampras wasn’t emotional or even human – that this outburst finally showed he was “human.” Sampras always felt that was an unfair image portrayed. He felt that he was simply able to put those aside when focusing on his tennis. Yes, he had human emotions and feelings but just didn’t express them openly as often. I thought that this reaction was a microcosm of the entire book – that Sampras was not apologizing or bragging about his career, he was simply who he was and this was why. It was refreshing to read such an autobiography.
I also found it refreshing that when reading this, I wasn’t reading about an athlete who was heavily into partying, drinking, drugs or sex. He didn’t talk much about these topics, but until he met his wife late in his career, he just didn’t find those as important as his game. Again, something I found very refreshing. That was a big reason I loved reading this book and will highly recommend it for anyone who either is a tennis fan or simply wants to read a different type of autobiography.
Did I skim?
Pace of the book:
Excellent. Since Sampras talks mostly tennis with very few personal side stories, the book reads quickly and stays in chronological order.
Do I recommend?
Yes, especially for tennis fans, both avid and casual. The avid fan will appreciate the inner tennis technical talk, the casual fan will enjoy reliving the highlights of Sampras’s career, and anyone who wants to read an autobiography that isn’t filled with a lot of chest thumping will enjoy this as well.
Book Format Read: