The Sampras letter that has the tennis world talking

The Sampras-Agassi rivalry was one of the best the game has seen. Photo: Getty

The Sampras-Agassi rivalry was one of the best the game has seen. Photo: Getty

For young sports stars, life can move pretty quickly.

All it takes is one big performance to turn them from a relative nobody to a talked-about somebody.

The pressure builds and so does the attention on them. They’ve got to learn how to deal with that. How to deal with the media. How to deal with growing up.

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Of course, everything’s easier with the benefit of hindsight.

And with that in mind, 14-time grand slam winner Pete Sampras wrote an outstanding letter to his 16-year-old self in The Players Tribune.

Sampras’ piece, full of revealing insights, is a must-read for athletes, sports fans and anyone else intrigued by the lessons a superstar can learn with age.

On the numerous off-field pressures, he wrote: “You’ll be an up-and-coming American with no exposure one day; then, when you wake up the morning after winning the [US] Open, you’ll be on talk show after talk show.

“All eyes will be on you, and the attention will take some getting used to — it won’t mesh well with your reserved personality.

“There’s more to being a pro than just playing tennis. The more successful you are, the more people will want out of you. It won’t always be something you’ll want to do, and it won’t always be fun. The pressure will be as exhausting as anything you’ll ever do on the tennis court.

The Sampras-Agassi rivalry was one of the best the game has seen. Photo: Getty

The Sampras-Agassi rivalry was one of the best the game has seen. Photo: Getty

“But as a tennis champion, you have that responsibility.

“You play tennis because you love the game, not because you love the limelight, so get ready. Think about getting some media training. It’ll go a long way.

“Luckily, you’ll be out of the game before these things called Twitter and Facebook come around. Be thankful for that. One day you’ll understand what I mean.

“Oh, and put the newspaper down. Don’t read what people are saying about you.

“No good can come of it. And if you do hear or read something negative about yourself, don’t sweat it. Let your racket do the talking.”

Sampras, who reminded himself of the need to eat well and be careful of what he put into his body to cure various ailments, recalled with fondness his rivalry with fellow American Andre Agassi.

The pair’s battles – there were 34 of them in total, Sampras winning 20 – became legendary in a great era of tennis.

“When you leave the court for good, there is one opponent whose name will be mentioned alongside yours forever. Andre Agassi,” he wrote.

“I know you can’t see it now, but you will have a fierce, special rivalry with Andre Agassi.

“He’ll be the best player you play against during your career, and he will bring out the best in you.

“You’ll rise to be the best in the world together, and it’s always gonna be a heavyweight match when you play. There will always be huge buzz.

“You’ll be fortunate enough to play against him in five Grand Slam finals, and you’ll win four of them.

“You’re gonna win your first and last Grand Slams against Andre, and somewhere in between, you’ll start to understand how important that rivalry is to American tennis and how special it is to both of you as individuals.

“This rivalry will be bigger than either of you could ever dream.

“Your games are so different, as are your personalities. Keeping it professional and always maintaining a mutual respect for one another is what will make the rivalry one of the best the game will ever see.”

Sampras reflected fondly on his relationship with his late coach Tim Gullikson and reminded himself to appreciate his friends and family more.

There was also a note to take the time to appreciate his victories – something that can be difficult given the year-long nature of the tennis circuit, and the fact there’s always a tournament around the corner.

Sampras’ full letter can be read here.

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