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Sampras reigns at Wimbledon

Emotional winner shares Grand Slam record with parents

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WIMBLEDON, England — His lips quivering and eyes blinking back tears, Pete Sampras scanned the Centre Court stadium searching for the two people with whom he wanted to share the greatest moment in his tennis career.

There, high in the stands, he spotted his father, Sam, waving his arms desperately to get his son's attention, and his mother, Georgia.

Sampras climbed into the bleachers and shared a long embrace with his parents, who had just watched their son make history by winning his seventh Wimbledon title and record 13th Grand Slam championship.

"It was nice to share it with my parents," he said. "I've wanted them to be a part of it. It took me a while to find them (in the stands). Once I did, it was a great moment."

It was a rare display of emotion by Sampras, whose parents had never been to Wimbledon or seen him win any Grand Slam. They flew in from Southern California only the day before.

Sampras rewarded them by overcoming Patrick Rafter 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2 Sunday to pass Roy Emerson for the most Slam titles and tie Willie Renshaw, a player in the 1880s, for the most Wimbledon victories.

"Win or lose today, I was going to invite them here," he said. "I'm glad they hopped on the plane and made the trip."

The only other time Sampras' parents saw him play in a Grand Slam tournament was at the 1992 U.S. Open, where he lost in the semifinals to Goran Ivanisevic.

"My parents are not tennis parents," he said. "You see a lot of cases where parents get too involved. I'm my own man. They always give me my independence."

There was another emotional family celebration at Wimbledon this weekend. On Saturday, 20-year-old Venus Williams climbed into the stands to embrace her 18-year-old sister, Serena, and father, Richard, after beating Lindsay Davenport in the women's final.

It was Venus' first Grand Slam title, and the second for the Williams sisters. Serena won the U.S. Open last year.

Venus and Serena were scheduled to play Sunday in the women's doubles final against Julie Halard-Decugis and Ai Sugiyama. But the match was put off until Monday due to rain.

Sampras' victory capped the most challenging of his seven title runs at Wimbledon. Coping with acute tendinitis above his left ankle from the second round on, he couldn't practice between matches.

"It really is amazing how this tournament just panned out for me," he said. "I didn't really feel like I was going to win here. I felt I was struggling."

The final had four hours of rain delays and ended in fading light at 8:57 p.m., after 3 hours, 2 minutes of actual play. If Rafter, the two-time U.S. Open champion, had won the fourth set, they would have had to return Monday.

Sampras said before the match that as long as his right arm held up, he would be a threat. It held up fine.

Sampras served 27 aces at up to 133 mph, and had 46 more unreturned serves as he averaged an incredible 123 mph on first serves.

Sampras faced only two break points and won once more without yielding a single game on his serve. Rafter couldn't break him in 21 service games. In his seven title matches, Sampras has dropped serve only four times in 131 games.

The only time Sampras buckled was in the first-set tiebreaker when he double-faulted to lose the set.

"We all choke," said Sampras, who wound up with 12 double-faults. "No matter who you are, you just get in the heat of the moment."

The match turned in the second set tiebreaker, when Rafter wilted after taking a 4-1 lead. He double-faulted, then netted a forehand to let Sampras tie it. Sampras then smacked a service winner and won his fifth straight point with a stunning inside-out forehand crosscourt that zipped past Rafter. Two points later he put the set away with a solid volley.

"I felt it slipping away," Sampras said. "He lost his nerve at 4-1 in the second breaker. From a matter of feeling like I was going to lose the match, I felt like I was going to win the match within two minutes."

Rafter admitted the tension got to him.

"I did get a little bit tight," he said. "It was an opportunity for me to go up two sets to love. From there it's a very tough position, as Pete knows, to come back from that. But that's what happens when you get tight."

Sampras has won 28 straight matches at Wimbledon, extending his mark there to 53-1 over the past eight years.

He is only the sixth male player in history to win Wimbledon four straight years. The last to do it was Bjorn Borg, who won five straight from 1976-80.

"This is the greatest player ever at Wimbledon," former three-time champion John McEnroe said. "This guy's not someone you can put anyone up against, nobody. No one has ever come close to Pete."

The debate over whether Sampras is the greatest overall player of all time will continue, however.

He's clearly the best of his generation.

Andre Agassi, 30, ranks a distant second among active players with six major championships.

But detractors point to the one glaring gap in his accomplishments: Sampras has never won the French Open, the only Grand Slam played on clay. He's never even reached the final, and this year he lost in the first round.

Sampras has been unable to complete a so-called career Grand Slam — winning all four majors. Rod Laver twice achieved the Grand Slam in a single year.

"For Pete to be the greatest of all time — he probably is, but to seal it, he'd have to win the French, I think. I think he knows that, as well," Rafter said.

"Obviously the French is the one that's missing," Sampras admitted.