Tennis Books: The legend of Sampras remains under construction

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The Independent Online
One day, probably when he is retired, enjoying his millions and well past caring what people think, fond memories of Pete Sampras' superlative tennis may finally eclipse a somewhat negative response to much of his career.

Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe achieved such an incredible pitch of high performance with low behaviour that it was never going to be easy for the players who followed them, particularly Americans. Sampras has tended to suffer by comparison for being good without being bad.

Herb Branham's unauthorised biography, Sampras: A Legend in the Works, is a timely reminder why his fellow resident of Tampa, Florida, was recently voted by his peers as the No 1 player in the 25 years since the inauguration of the Association of Tennis Professionals, which became the ATP Tour.

The book's title is apt. The 26-year-old Sampras' legend remains under construction as he continues the quest for honours, especially Grand Slam singles championships. Sampras has won 10, two fewer than the record held by Australia's Roy Emerson. Sampras, moreover, has yet to win the French Open, the only one of the four classics played on red clay.

Branham's research would hardly be complete without a word from Rod Laver, one of Sampras' idols and the only man to accomplish the Grand Slam twice. According to the great Australian left-hander, Sampras' prospects of winning on the Paris clay might increase if he took a bit off his serve, went after his returns a little more and got to the net more than ever. Laver added that Sampras' occasional lapses had no place in the clay-court mentality and noted an improved steadiness.

Sampras' success has been accompanied by grief in recent years - the death of his coach, Tim Gullikson, from brain cancer took an emotional toll on the Wimbledon champion. The author also touches on reports that Sampras suffers from a mild form of anaemia.

The player's sister, Stella, who coached the women's tennis team at UCLA, "says that she also had the disease and stressed that it was no big deal and that it played no part in her brother's conditioning shortcomings." Sampras has publicly denied that he has the affliction.

"Sampras' vanilla personality didn't make for good copy," Branham observes during one passage. The author does his best to contradict the point.

If the success of the Honda Challenge ATP Senior Tour event featuring Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe at the Royal Albert Hall represents the first ripples of a wave of nostalgia, A Handful of Summers will certainly go with the flow. Gordon Forbes' classic account of life on the tour before the advent of Open tennis is guaranteed to warm a winter's night. There is also Forbes' sequel, Too Soon to Panic, for readers game enough to have their sides split twice.

The trousers and skirts are longer still in Max Robertson's The Ballad of Worple Road, a history in verse of the original All England Club grounds (1877-1921). Robertson, the BBC's Voice of Wimbledon for more than 40 years, has also recorded a reading on tape as a companion to the book.

Medieval Europe and modern Grand Slams figure in A Little History of Tennis, by John Crace, the neatest way to put the sport in your pocket without becoming an agent.

Wimbledon '97, wet and wonderful, is captured in words and photographs in the official annual, text by John Parsons and photography by the Allsport team of Clive Brunskill, Gary M Prior and Stu Forster. The 1997 Wimbledon Compendium, by Alan Little, is a must for those who like to dip into virtually every aspect concerning the world's most prestigious tournament.

The US Open - Game, Set, Unmatched, is a handsome pictorial history of the United States Championships with text by Roger M Williams. Not seen in this country yet, it is published by Time Life Books and might be available through Sports Pages (0171 240 9604 or 0161 832 8530).

ITF World of Tennis, edited by John Barrett, remains the most comprehensive annual covering the international scene. Those who teach the game, or wish to learn to play, or are keen to improve their technique and enjoyment of the sport are recommended The Way to Play, by Leif Dahlgren, development administrator for the International Tennis Federation and the former director of education for the Swedish Tennis Association.

Sampras - A Legend in the Works by H A Branham (Breedon Books, pounds 14.99); A Handful of Summers by Gordon Forbes (Harper Collins, pounds 5.99); Too Soon to Panic by Gordon Forbes (Harper Collins, pounds 5.99); The Ballad of Worple Road by Max Robertson (Lennard/Queen Anne Press, pounds 9.99); A Little History of Tennis by John Crace (Appletree Press, pounds 4.99); The Official Wimbledon Annual 1997 by John Parsons (Hazleton Publishing, pounds 20); 1997 Wimbledon Compendium by Alan Little (The All England Lawn Tennis Club, pounds 7.50); The US Open: Game, Set, Unmatched by Roger M Williams (Time Life Books, $29.95, try Sports Pages, 0171 240 9604); ITF World of Tennis edited by John Barrett (Collins Willow, pounds 9.99); The Way to Play by Leif Dahlgren (Minerva Press, pounds 12.99)

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