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View Full Version : sampras - transition in his playing style through the yrs


shakes1975
02-19-2007, 03:39 PM
having seen sampras play right since the 1990 USO till his last match at the 2002 USO F, i've been really curious about how he slowly changed his playing style through the years.

when sampras came into his own in 1993 as the new world #1, he was an attacking baseline player with good volleys. he came to the net frequently, but was definitely not a pure S & V'er. he was very good from the baseline, able to hold his own against courier, chang, agassi etc. from the baseline.
his volleying, though solid (somewhat at the level of current fed), was not as good as it was to be yrs later.
he played some decently long rallies, and was pretty successful in winning them. he came to the net off some of the first serves but mostly played from the baseline on his 2nd serve. in fact, if u see his 1993 wim F against courier, u'll be surprised at the number of baseline rallies.

this trend continued through 1995-1996. i was watching the 1995 USO F the other day, and mac said "it's surprising that for a guy who has so much talent, pete has a defensive mindset".

this version of sampras had loads of confidence in his abilities from the baseline, and therefore didn't see the need to blast down the bombs every time he had to serve. he was a bit like fed is now, with a better running FH but a weaker BH.

starting from 1997, pete had a major change in his mindset. he was still very good from the baseline, but he chose to play S & V completely on his first serve, and more often than not on the 2nd.

he continued with the S & V style, gradually improving, until he reached his S & V peak in 1999 ( esp. the 1999 Wim F). at this point in his career, he was still young enough to have that explosive movement to the net, and his 2nd serve was now significantly harder than it was a couple of yrs earlier. this meant that people couldn't get into his service games anymore, forget about attacking his BH.

from mid-2000, sampras, ever so slightly, lost that speed. this meant that he was getting to the net a fraction later than before. this would have major consequences (look at edberg, for eg.) but sampras countered this by ratcheting up his serve so much that his 2nd serves were regularly clocked at 115+. Indeed, in the 2001,2002 USO matches against agassi, or even against fed in their 2001 wim match, he hit 2nd serves at 122 mph. he looked to win the point outright with his serve (1st or 2nd). due to lack of practice thru the yrs, and due to loss in footspeed, his ground game suffered. in fact, he played half-heartedly thru most rallies trying to get that one break of serve.

he finished his career as a pure s/v'er.

i think a lot of credit/discredit for changes to sampras' game goes to his two coaches thru most of his peak career: gullickson and annacone. while he was with gullickson, he was more of the all-court player (as he was till 1996) and under annacone, he transformed into the s & v player (mac said about annacone: he was the only player i played who used chip-charge on opponents first serves").

though i loved the serve-volley sampras, i also wonder how sampras would've developed had gullickson lived on. the reason i wonder about this is that sampras' best results at the FO were under gullickson (QF in 1992, 1994, SF in 1996).

travlerajm
02-19-2007, 04:01 PM
I think that there is a lot of evidence that Sampras changed his specs in the late 90s, and this spec change had a lot to do with his change in playing style.

Reason #1 that I suspect a spec change:
I remember hearing a rumor ( I can't remember exactly when, but I think it was before 98? Wimbledon, after Sampras had been down and out following an injury) that Sampras had been adding more lead to the tip of his frame to add power to his serve.

Reason #2 that I suspect a spec change:
Greg Raven's Sampras racquet has a SW of 367. But Coach Reed measured a Sampras racquet at SW 388. I believe the Raven racquet is from '88-'97 Sampras, and the Reed racquet is from post '97 Sampras.

Reason #3 that I suspect a spec change:
A SW of 367 would have been ideal for his penetrating power baseline game.
This is a good swingweight for an all court player. In contrast, a SW of 388 would be a bit clunky to get into postion on returns.

Reason #4 that I suspect a spec change:
The 388 SW setup would be excellent for serve and volley, because the stability of the higher swingweight gives superb depth control on low volleys, and extra pop without swinging on high volleys. Sampras' depth control on low volleys was noticeably improved in the later years of his career. In fact, his low volleys were probably the best in the business from '99-'02 when he could get his racquet to the ball (Rafter was a bit quicker at net).

Reason #5 that I suspect a spec change:
The current version of Sampras that I witnessed playing team tennis appears to be playing with specs similar to his 98-02 specs. His serve seems enormously heavy even when his racquet speed is suspiciously slow and fluid. And his 35-yr-old body didn't seem to be able to get the racquet moved around fast enough on reaction volleys for doubles. It's really a singles S&V setup, while his 367 SW setup was more versatile.

shakes1975
02-19-2007, 04:46 PM
u r right. sampras' half-volleys towards the end of his career were *amazing*. it was a major reason why he won the 2001 USO QF match against agassi.

but what do u think about his gradual transition from an all-court player to a s/v'er ?

shakes1975
02-19-2007, 05:06 PM
adding to what i said in the first post, i often wonder about a few things when it comes to sampras.

firstly, which is the "real PEAK sampras" ? is it the 1999 wim sampras or is it the 1995 USO sampras ? the reason i ask this question is bcos these 2 versions of sampras are quite different from each other.

i think it's the 1999 wim sampras. here he was serving as hard as ever, and his speed around the court was still good enough to get to the volleys in time.

i feel the 1999 sampras would beat the 1995 version of sampras, but against the current gen. of players, the 1995 version would've probably done better (what with all the courts being slowed down etc.).

ur take on this ?

Frenchie
02-19-2007, 05:11 PM
He slowly abandoned the topspin backhand. He was always slicing right before his retirement.

travlerajm
02-19-2007, 06:12 PM
I'd say peak Sampras was the 93-97 version. This was by far his most dominant period. I remember being shocked when he lost to Yzaga in 94 USO, and to Korda in 97 USO. Those were huge upsets, both epic 5-setters to knock off the King. In 99, he hadn't won a non-grass slam since 96, so I wouldn't say he was at his peak. The later incarnation of Sampras had some pathetic slam performances. In 2000 and 2001 USO finals, he was too old to recover overnight from 5-set semis to beat 20-yr-old Safin and Hewitt. In my mind, a fresh Sampras would have waxed Safin and Hewitt in those finals - as he looked fatigued and slow in both of those. And in the 2001 final against Hewitt, his average 2nd serve speed was 85mph, when it had been 115mph in his quarterfinal in the no-breaks match vs Agassi. Maybe serving with 388 SW and 14-oz static weight is tough on back to back days? And he was flat out pathetic and slower than molasses against George Bastl in Wimb 2002. He got lucky that in the 2002 USO final he got to play against someone older than he was!

As for the gradual change in his game, I don't really think it was that gradual. I think the racquet spec change that I mentioned almost forced him to play a different style, a style that suited him more and more as his legs gradually slowed down.

pj80
02-19-2007, 06:37 PM
I'd say peak Sampras was the 93-97 version. This was by far his most dominant period. I remember being shocked when he lost to Yzaga in 94 USO, and to Korda in 97 USO. Those were huge upsets, both epic 5-setters to knock off the King. In 99, he hadn't won a non-grass slam since 96, so I wouldn't say he was at his peak. The later incarnation of Sampras had some pathetic slam performances. In 2000 and 2001 USO finals, he was too old to recover overnight from 5-set semis to beat 20-yr-old Safin and Hewitt. In my mind, a fresh Sampras would have waxed Safin and Hewitt in those finals - as he looked fatigued and slow in both of those. And in the 2001 final against Hewitt, his average 2nd serve speed was 85mph, when it had been 115mph in his quarterfinal in the no-breaks match vs Agassi. Maybe serving with 388 SW and 14-oz static weight is tough on back to back days? And he was flat out pathetic and slower than molasses against George Bastl in Wimb 2002. He got lucky that in the 2002 USO final he got to play against someone older than he was!

As for the gradual change in his game, I don't really think it was that gradual. I think the racquet spec change that I mentioned almost forced him to play a different style, a style that suited him more and more as his legs gradually slowed down.


i agree,i think the 1997 version of sampras was unbeatable not even by fed.

watch his speed and power here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esbvf2RJXDQ

shakes1975
02-19-2007, 06:53 PM
to travlerajm,

you are right about the fact that in 1999, he didn't win any non-grass slam. but it should be noted that in 1999, he skipped both the AO and the USO. in fact, going by his performance in the 1999 wim F, he was the favourite for the USO.

i still think that his 1999 wim performance over agassi was the best he ever played. however, i also feel that the 1997 version would've beaten hewitt, although i have doubts over safin bcos safin, in the USO 2000 F, was absolutely on fire.

Lindros13
02-19-2007, 06:54 PM
i agree,i think the 1997 version of sampras was unbeatable not even by fed.

watch his speed and power here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esbvf2RJXDQ

Interesting to see how relaxed he is in those video highlights. I guess that's how he was mostly. Something I need to incorporate into my game..

shakes1975
02-19-2007, 06:56 PM
i agree,i think the 1997 version of sampras was unbeatable not even by fed.

watch his speed and power here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esbvf2RJXDQ

i don't want this thread to become another fed vs. sampras debate, but i disagree. i think the 1999 version of sampras is a better match-up against fed, mainly bcos he won't give any time for fed to settle into a rythm.

1997 sampras, though he's very good, still played quite a bit from the baseline. and i don't care who u r, even if u r sampras, u can't beat fed from the baseline.

look back to the 1997 USO sampras-korda match. korda won that match but i don't think korda would've beat 1999 sampras.

travlerajm
02-19-2007, 07:01 PM
to travlerajm,

you are right about the fact that in 1999, he didn't win any non-grass slam. but it should be noted that in 1999, he skipped both the AO and the USO. in fact, going by his performance in the 1999 wim F, he was the favourite for the USO.

i still think that his 1999 wim performance over agassi was the best he ever played. however, i also feel that the 1997 version would've beaten hewitt, although i have doubts over safin bcos safin, in the USO 2000 F, was absolutely on fire.

I think the 2000 and 2001 versions of Sampras would have beaten Safin and Hewitt respectively, if the final was played on Monday. Consider who he beat in the semis those years: Hewitt and Safin! So the young guns took turns softening Pete up for the other in the final the next day.

travlerajm
02-19-2007, 07:03 PM
look back to the 1997 USO sampras-korda match. korda won that match but i don't think korda would've beat 1999 sampras.

Korda was probably on the juice that gave him robocop-like stamina for the 5-setter. It was the only time I know of that Pete was up a break in the 5th and lost. He looked like he wanted to commit suicide after that match.

Azzurri
02-25-2007, 08:40 AM
having seen sampras play right since the 1990 USO till his last match at the 2002 USO F, i've been really curious about how he slowly changed his playing style through the years.

when sampras came into his own in 1993 as the new world #1, he was an attacking baseline player with good volleys. he came to the net frequently, but was definitely not a pure S & V'er. he was very good from the baseline, able to hold his own against courier, chang, agassi etc. from the baseline.
his volleying, though solid (somewhat at the level of current fed), was not as good as it was to be yrs later.
he played some decently long rallies, and was pretty successful in winning them. he came to the net off some of the first serves but mostly played from the baseline on his 2nd serve. in fact, if u see his 1993 wim F against courier, u'll be surprised at the number of baseline rallies.

this trend continued through 1995-1996. i was watching the 1995 USO F the other day, and mac said "it's surprising that for a guy who has so much talent, pete has a defensive mindset".

this version of sampras had loads of confidence in his abilities from the baseline, and therefore didn't see the need to blast down the bombs every time he had to serve. he was a bit like fed is now, with a better running FH but a weaker BH.

starting from 1997, pete had a major change in his mindset. he was still very good from the baseline, but he chose to play S & V completely on his first serve, and more often than not on the 2nd.

he continued with the S & V style, gradually improving, until he reached his S & V peak in 1999 ( esp. the 1999 Wim F). at this point in his career, he was still young enough to have that explosive movement to the net, and his 2nd serve was now significantly harder than it was a couple of yrs earlier. this meant that people couldn't get into his service games anymore, forget about attacking his BH.

from mid-2000, sampras, ever so slightly, lost that speed. this meant that he was getting to the net a fraction later than before. this would have major consequences (look at edberg, for eg.) but sampras countered this by ratcheting up his serve so much that his 2nd serves were regularly clocked at 115+. Indeed, in the 2001,2002 USO matches against agassi, or even against fed in their 2001 wim match, he hit 2nd serves at 122 mph. he looked to win the point outright with his serve (1st or 2nd). due to lack of practice thru the yrs, and due to loss in footspeed, his ground game suffered. in fact, he played half-heartedly thru most rallies trying to get that one break of serve.

he finished his career as a pure s/v'er.

i think a lot of credit/discredit for changes to sampras' game goes to his two coaches thru most of his peak career: gullickson and annacone. while he was with gullickson, he was more of the all-court player (as he was till 1996) and under annacone, he transformed into the s & v player (mac said about annacone: he was the only player i played who used chip-charge on opponents first serves").

though i loved the serve-volley sampras, i also wonder how sampras would've developed had gullickson lived on. the reason i wonder about this is that sampras' best results at the FO were under gullickson (QF in 1992, 1994, SF in 1996).

I read in an article that as Pete got older he SV more because he he lost a little step and the players were more powerfull from the baseline. Your assessment is pretty good.:)

Frank Silbermann
02-25-2007, 08:29 PM
I read that he recently changed to a racquet with a larger head (mid-plus; his Wilson Pro-Staff with mid-minus), and as a result he believes he's hitting the ball harder and more accurately than at any time during his career.

One wonders why he waited until now to make the change. I suppose when he was competing he was afraid to lose his timing.

It would have been better for tennis if he had gone to the more effective racquet when he was #1 -- he would have become even more dominant. Perhaps young players would have been more likely to imitate his strokes, so that we'd still see pros on the tour using traditionally correct grips and stances (i.e. Eastern grips with square/semi-closed stance).

larlarbd
02-25-2007, 08:48 PM
adding to what i said in the first post, i often wonder about a few things when it comes to sampras.

firstly, which is the "real PEAK sampras" ? is it the 1999 wim sampras or is it the 1995 USO sampras ? the reason i ask this question is bcos these 2 versions of sampras are quite different from each other.

i think it's the 1999 wim sampras. here he was serving as hard as ever, and his speed around the court was still good enough to get to the volleys in time.

i feel the 1999 sampras would beat the 1995 version of sampras, but against the current gen. of players, the 1995 version would've probably done better (what with all the courts being slowed down etc.).

ur take on this ?


Great Observation guys . I agree that the Peak Sampras would be the 1999Wim one . But I disagree about the current gen comparasion - Sampras of 1999 was the most devastating of "ANY" tennis player "EVER" . not only because of the speed & change in game - but he was most aggressive during this stage & could counter anything thrown at him . Later he lost a bit of edge because of lack of practice.

The Gorilla
02-25-2007, 09:36 PM
95 sampras.