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Pete Sampras makes tennis history

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WIMBLEDON, England — Drizzle, double faults and darkness couldn't keep Pete Sampras from making tennis history.

Fighting back to win a match he felt slipping away, Sampras overcame Patrick Rafter in four sets Sunday to win his seventh Wimbledon title and record-breaking 13th Grand Slam championship.

Sampras served 27 aces and whipped 13 passing shot winners to beat Rafter 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-2 in a match that ended at dusk after four hours of rain delays.

After Sampras hit a service winner on match point, he raised his arms in triumph, then bent over, bit his lower lip and began to cry.

Sampras climbed into the stands and hugged his tearful father, Sam, and mother, Georgia, who came to Wimbledon for the first time to watch their son go for the record.

Even tournament referee Alan Mills' eyes brimmed with tears.

"It meant so much to me," Sampras said after accepting the champion's trophy from the Duke of Kent. "My parents are here today. It's so important to me they could share it with me.

"I love Wimbledon. This is the best court in the world. It's my home away from home."

The victory confirmed that Sampras was certainly one of the greatest players of all time — if not the greatest.

The 28-year-old American matched the record of seven Wimbledon titles, set by William Renshaw in the 1880s, and surpassed the men's record of 12 Grand Slam tournament victories he had shared with Australia's Roy Emerson.

Sampras accomplished the feat despite tendinitis at the front of his left shin, which hobbled him most

of the fortnight and left him mentally prepared for defeat.

"With everything that's happened, I'd say this is one of my best moments," Sampras said. "It's amazing, really amazing how this tournament has panned out for me. I didn't think I was going to win here. I was really struggling."

Sampras remained typically understated about his place in the record books.

"I don't look at it as relief," he said. "I never planned on breaking this record. I looked at it as an opportunity. It's kind of transcended into something that I put myself into position to do it."

The Grand Slam record likely could stand for years.

"Time will tell if it will be broken," Sampras said. "In the modern game, it could be difficult. The next person might be 8 years old hitting at a park somewhere around the world."

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

"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."

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

In the end, he did it the way he always has — by outserving his opponent.

Firing first serves at an average speed of 123 mph, with a top delivery of 133 mph, Sampras was never broken Sunday, saving the only two break points against him. He broke Rafter three times.

In seven Wimbledon finals, Sampras has lost his serve only four times in 131 service games.