AF Book Review: Pete Sampras – A Champion’s Mind

The first thing to be said about Pete Sampras: A Champion’s Mind is that it does exactly what it says on the tin.  It gives you the insight into the making of a champion.  Some people will only ever be known for one thing and Pete Sampras recognises that what he will be remembered for more than anything is the fact that he is a champion in tennis.  Some people know that what they’re good at, what their gift is and it’s intriguing throughout that Sampras refers to his ability on the court as the Gift (yeah capital ‘g’ as well).  So he just focuses on that.  If you’re interested in anything outside of that, you’ll be disappointed.  Not too much is written about his relationships outside tennis and every relationship is measured by its pertinence to the tennis – this is a single-minded book.

I am no tennis player, but if I were and I wanted to know what ti took to be the best as for five years Sampras was, this book would be of enormous benefit.  It’s clear from the start that tennis was to Sampras what politics was to Winston Churchill or India was to Gandhi – the one all-consuming passion of his life.  As he mentions, where other players had an active social life, he put things like that on hold to focus on being in prime shape for his game.  He was happy to sacrifice everything to get to the place that he believed he could make.

What evidently sets Sampras apart is not just a recognition for his ability but the complete dedication he gives to this recognition.  The comparison he makes between himself and others of his peer group like Andre Agassi for example bears out how for some it was tennis and life, whereas for him it was tennis as life and that drove him to attain a lot of the achievements.

This book is indeed a good insight into the mind of a champion and it is not written in a way that is boastful or arrogant, but the line between arrogance and asserting facts is tremendously fine and so at times you get Sampras seeing things as not quite up to his standard.  The picky aspects of the champion’s life is seen in the way Pete relates some of the conditions that didn’t allow him to succeed in some places as opposed to others.

It would be understandable if Sampras wanted to use the book to sort out some grievances and injustices especially against some of his critics.  Yet with the exception of some reservations over Jimmy Connors this is not a book about having a go at other players or any of the such like.  He views the relationships through the lens of his total consumption with winning.  This good interview with Jay Leno touches on some of those aspects of his commitment to the game.

This is not then your typical autobiography, it is very focussed and as a result could be said to be limited in its appeal, yet this is not just a book for Sampras fans or tennis lovers.  It is as much a book for people who want to get an insight into the makings of a champion and can also help those who live with compulsive obsessive types.  A good read and commendable contribution to the works of sports biography.




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