This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
Greg Rusedski, it seemed, was only saying what was on everyone's mind. The Canadian turned Brit had just lost his third-round match to Pete Sampras at the 2002 U.S. Open in five sets, but he wasn’t impressed with what he had seen on the other side of the net.
“I’d be surprised if he wins his next match,” Rusedski said. “I think the movement is not the same and the fitness is not the same. He’s just not the same player from the past. You’re used to seeing Pete Sampras, 13-time Grand Slam champion. He’s not the same player.”
There may have been some sour grapes lodged within those words, but it was hard to argue with their accuracy. By the fall of 2002, the 31-year-old Sampras wasn’t the same player he once had been. His last title had come 26 months earlier, at Wimbledon in 2000. He was ranked No. 17. In the previous two U.S. Open finals, he had been humiliated by two members of a new generation, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt. That June, Sampras had experienced what he called “the lowest moment of my career,” when he lost to 71st-ranked lucky loser George Bastl at Wimbledon, his favorite tournament. While that debacle had pushed Sampras to reconnect with his old coach Paul Annacone, the work they had done that summer had yet to produce any notable results.
What Rusedski and the rest of the world didn’t know was that Sampras had turned a corner in the final game of their third-round match. Out of nowhere, after struggling all evening to return Rusedski’s formidable lefty serve, he broke in the last game and let out a long-bottled-up roar of triumph.
The bullets, his opponents would soon find out, were back in the pistol.