Also, next month will be the twelfth for the Coffeehouse, a full year of book loving under our belts. It's a good time for reflection. I'm quite happy about the way things have gone but I welcome thoughts on how I might improve upon the concept. So please give forth in the comments section below. Growth and evolution are good things.
Title: A Champion's Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis
Author: Pete Sampras with Peter Bodo
Even viewing from the tail end of the glorious era of Federer-Nadal dominance, Pete Sampras is still my favorite tennis player of all. The story of his career is very much the story of how I became a fan of the sport - the subject of one of my very earliest blog posts (read it here). As such, reading Pete's own reflections on his career highlights affords me a quick stroll through the memories of my own young adulthood.
Sampras's insights into the sport are wonderful - in-depth analyses of the games of his rivals, descriptions of the character of each Major tournament, technical rundowns of important matches, etc. The tone is quiet and conversational, befitting the author. Of all the famous people I've observed in my life, Pete Sampras was the one who seemed least comfortable with being famous. Many considered it off-putting, more accustomed to larger-than-life types like John McEnroe. I found it endearing and one feels all the more privileged to be allowed into his confidence.
Pete is very gracious in discussing his rivals, particularly Andre Agassi. One could argue that as undisputed top dog of his era, Pete can afford to be magnanimous but it contrasts sharply with Agassi's own book, Open (review here). Andre is quite petty in some of his stories about Sampras and Pete got off easy compared to others. Pete probably cast the book aside with a laugh and got on with his day. Meanwhile, Michael Chang and Jimmy Connors were likely on the phone with their publicists. Of course, one might say the snarkiness is part of what makes Agassi's book a fun read but it did little to endear me to him as a person.
Always a fun topic, the Greatest of All Time debate is likely to ramp up again in the coming months. Long retired, Sampras can only watch as Nadal and Federer improve their credentials. There are, however, two career metrics Sampras should be able to claim over both of them when all is said and done. First, the record of which Sampras claims to be most proud is the fact that he finished World #1 for six consecutive years. Federer topped out at four in a row. Nadal has finished #1 three times, but never twice in succession. Secondly, Sampras's first Major title and his last were 12 years apart. Nadal has a shot at that since he won his first at 19 (same as Pete) but it's less likely for Roger who won his first at 21.
Reading this book soon after Nadal's allowed for interesting comparisons between the two men - so different in their public personas and styles of play, yet similarly accomplished as tennis players. Both have a healthy, though certainly not misplaced arrogance born of success. Yet both know that at the end of the day, they're just tennis players and their impressive resumes do not make them superior people. The most interesting contrast to me was their opposite attitudes toward losing. Rafa is terrified of losing which has driven his work ethic and his competitive spirit for his whole life. Pete is not afraid to lose, encouraged from a young age to focus on improving his own skills rather than dwelling on match-to-match results. One wonders where Roger falls on that spectrum. My guess is closer to Rafa's end.
Like Rafa, this is a fun book though probably most fun for a tennis fan - probably not so much to offer for someone who doesn't follow the sport. Agassi's Open is a better book for those with more casual interest.
Please join us and share your own review of your best read from the past month. This month's link list is below. I'll keep it open until the end of the day. I'll post April's tomorrow. Meetings are the last Friday of each month. Next gathering is April 25th.