Why do athletes come out of retirement?
Mostly it is because they think they still ‘have it’ or that the game has been a part of them for so long that life without it seems almost futile (insert Rocky Balboa movie references here).
Whatever the reason, from a fan’s perceptive, it is almost unbearable to watch these players’ try to rejuvenate their careers.
I speak of none other then former tennis superstar Pete Sampras. Last week, Pistol Pete announced he was returning to professional play in the Outback Champions Series at Boston University.
Sure, Sampras was considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time and holds the record for most career Grand Slam titles, but his time has passed.
Roger Federer is now the next big thing and has been so dominant that many people consider him to be the greatest player of all time at the young age of 26. Not even Sampras’ return to tennis can change that fact.
But for me, Sampras is immortalized in the iconic image of him standing in Arthur Ashe Stadium after winning the U.S. Open in 2002, defeating long-time rival Andre Agassi.
That match was his storybook ending. Sampras had not won a tournament in over 26 months and insisted that he had one more major title left in him. He proved all his critics wrong and left tennis on top of his game.
His ending was like that of Michael Jordan, who hit the game-winning shot over Bryan Russel in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals for his sixth NBA Title.
The shot should have been M.J.’s lasting image and storybook ending for the greatest NBA player in history. Instead, M.J. chose to return to the game, and, though still effective, was not as great as his former self.
Many would argue that great players have the right to choose when they exit the world of the sports. But in reality, the Brett Favres of the world end up doing more harm to not only their image but to the teams they play for.
For Sampras, I’m sure he wants to prove his critics wrong yet again, but not even his return could save the sad state of American tennis.
No one can expect Sampras to defeat some of the big names at the limber age of 36, and the fact of the matter is that he is not getting any younger. Sampras will be lucky if he doesn’t end up limping around like Agassi did in last year’s U.S. Open when he is forced to play tournament games every other day.
There is no doubt that millions will line up to see Sampras play, reminiscing about the old days of Sampras, John McEnroe, Michael Chang and Agassi. Yet, fans’ expectations will have to lowered as Sampras might have a hard time replicating his classic ‘serve and volley’ game.
Later this year, Sampras will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Instead of celebrating his accomplishments, he will be throwing his racket back on the court.
When Sampras came to play a charity match at the Bren Center in September, he easily defeated Andy Roddick in the two sets they played (5-3, 5-3).
Many point to this and say Sampras still has some game left. But this is where their argument and reasoning are flawed. True tennis fans don’t want to see a player who has some skill left in the tank, but the same Sampras who made Centre Court his second home at Wimbeldon and can take on Federer.
Before Sampras takes a page out of M.J.’s book, he should look back to Jerome Bettis’ career and see how perfect it would be for a professional athlete to finish his career at the top of their respected sport.
If not, I’ll have to Youtube Sampras’ U.S. Open win in 2002 and mentally delete everything that came after.