- 09 Apr 2021
What happened exactly on that day?
On this day, April 9, 2000, for the first time in his career, Pete Sampras played a deciding fifth rubber in a Davis Cup tie, in which the United States faced the Czech Republic. The former world No 1 played through a quadriceps strain to defeat Slava Dosedel 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 and send his team into the semi-finals to the great relief of his captain John McEnroe.
Pete Sampras, born in 1971, had dominated the game in the 1990s. After winning his first Grand Slam at the 1990 US Open (where he became the youngest champion of all-time defeating rival Andre Agassi 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in the final), he became world No 1 in April 1993. He then ended the next six seasons (1993-1998) as world No1, setting a record that has yet to be beaten (Editor note – the record has since been tied by Novak Djokovic at the end of the 2020 season). His serve-and-volley game was particularly lethal on the grass courts of the All England Club, where he conquered six titles between 1993 and 1999, holding a 46-1 record (the only man to beat him was Richard Krajicek in the 1996 quarterfinals, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4).
Sampras had triumphed four times at the US Open (1990, 1993, 1995, 1996) and twice at the Australian Open (1994, 1997), being now only one title away from Roy Emerson’s record of 13 Grand Slam crowns. On top of that, the American had won the Masters Cup four times (1991, 1994, 1996, 1997), and had accumulated a total of 60 titles in his career.
Sampras would have been easily called the greatest of all time had it not been for his obvious weakness on clay: his best performance at Roland-Garros was a semi-final reached in 1996 (losing to Yevgeny Kafelnikov 7-6, 6-0, 6-2), and he had not reached the second week of the tournament since then. In 1999, he paid the toll for all his previous efforts and he played far away from his usual standards during the first half of the season, but he was back in his groove at the All England Club where he defeated Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and prevented his rival from becoming the first player since Bjorn Borg to win Roland-Garros and Wimbledon the same year. After a great summer, where he claimed the title in Cincinnati (defeating Patrick Rafter 7-6, 6-3 in the final), a back injury forced him to withdraw from the US Open. He had recovered just in time to play one tournament, the Paris Masters 1000, but he finished the year in style at the Masters Cup, where he triumphed for the fifth time as world No 5, his lowest ranking at the year-end event since 1991. In April 2000, after having lost to Agassi in the Australian Open semi-finals (6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-1), he won the Miami Masters 1000 and was back up to No 2 in the rankings.
Slava Dosedel, from the Czech Republic, was born in 1970. He turned pro in 1989 and broke into the top 100 in 1993, the year he reached his first ATP final, in Sao Paulo (defeated by Alberto Berasategui 6-4, 6-3). He reached his career-high ranking, world No 26, in 1994, but only claimed the first of his three ATP titles in 1995 in Santiago (defeating Marcelo Rios 7-6, 6-3 in the final). Although he never played a final on a surface other than clay, his best Grand Slam performance came at the 1999 US Open, where he reached the quarter-finals (losing to Todd Martin 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4).
The 2000 Davis Cup quarter-final tie between the United States and the Czech Republic was held at The Forum, an indoor arena located in Inglewood, California. From 1967 until 1999, it was the home of the famous basketball team, the Los Angeles Lakers. It also hosted many concerts throughout the years, and many famous artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney had performed there.
In April 2000, for a player the calibre of Pete Sampras, who had been world No 1 for six years and had already accumulated 12 Grand Slam titles, it could have been hard to imagine there may be anything he had not experienced on a tennis court. However, on Sunday, April 9, for the first time in his career, Sampras played the fifth and deciding rubber of a Davis Cup tie.
The six-time Wimbledon champion had not always kept the Davis Cup high on his priority list, although he had been a part of the winning American team in 1992 and 1995. In 2000, however, John McEnroe, the new captain, had put a lot of pressure on him and his rival Agassi to take part in his first campaign. Sampras had still refused to play the first round tie in Zimbabwe, but this time, in California, he had no excuse to avoid the match against the Czech Republic.
In the opening match, the world No 2 suffered one of his heaviest losses, defeated in straight sets (7-6, 6-3, 6-2) by world No 39 Jiri Novak.
“It’s been a while since I felt I was getting outplayed like that,” he said afterwards.
Luckily, Andre Agassi levelled the tie defeating Slava Dosedel 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in the second match, and after the Americans lost the doubles on Saturday, the Las Vegas Kid saved the day once again destroying Novak 6-3, 6-3, 6-1.
It was now up to Sampras to finish the job. Against Dosedel, world No 48, he was the heavy favourite, but in the third game, the crowd gasped as the American hurt his leg. However, his captain didn’t really give him a chance to retire.
“I got back to the chair, and John just said, ‘Suck it up,'” said Sampras, according to The Washington Post. “John would have choked me. I knew I was playing no matter what. I could definitely see it in his eyes when I told him I hurt my leg. He didn’t want any part of it… Fortunately, adrenaline is a pretty amazing drug – it can get me through some tough situations.”
Relying mostly on his lethal serve, which was sharp enough on that day to prevent him from being run around by his opponent, Sampras had the match under control, playing through what would later be diagnosed as a quadriceps strain and prevailed 6-4, 6-4, 7-6.
“My heart temporarily stopped (when Sampras was injured), but I sensed there was something different with Pete today,” McEnroe said. “He sounded like he was more ready to go. The energy level was different; he came out firing from the start.”
Pete Sampras would not be a part of the American team in the semi-finals, where his teammates would be defeated by Spain. A few months later, he would claim the last of his seven Wimbledon crowns, defeating Patrick Rafter 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the final. He would play his last match at the 2002 US Open, where he would defeat his long-time rival Agassi in the final (6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4) to claim a 14th Grand Slam title.
Slava Dosedel would drop out of the top 100 at the start of 2001, which would turn out to be his final year on the professional tour.