Sampras retires from pro tennis

Pete Sampras went out a winner, after all.

Sampras, 32, formally announced his retirement from pro tennis Monday at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

"I'm done, 100 per cent done," he confirmed. "I'm 100 per cent retired.

"I'm at peace with it. It's time to call it a career."

Afterwards, Sampras was honoured during a ceremony at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where he captured his fifth U.S. Open title last year.

It was his final match as a pro.

"I loved playing in New York and in front of you guys" exclaimed a teary-eyed Sampras, who was presented with a plaque and accorded three standing ovations.

"But I know that it's time to say goodbye."

The half-hour tribute included a three-minute highlight video, a pre-recorded message from Agassi and live speeches from Boris Becker, Jim Courier and John McEnroe.

Quipped the temperamental McEnroe about his mild-mannered friend: "I tried to serve like you. I couldn't do that.

"I tried to hit a big forehand like you. I couldn't do that.

"I also tried to act like Pete. Needless to say, I failed at that."

"Obviously, it's been an amazing run for Pete," Courier added. "And what an appropriate way to sort of cap it -- by coming back to the site where it all started and where it all ended for him.

"It's a perfect punctuation point on his career."

Sampras actually hinted at retirement after defeating longtime foe Andre Agassi, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in last year's thrilling final: "To beat a rival like Andre, in a storybook ending, it might be nice to stop."

He has not played on the ATP Tour since.

"I'm not retiring because I'm married or I have a son," Sampras confided. "I'm retiring because I have nothing to prove to myself.

"I've always had challenges ahead of me. Either staying No. 1 or winning majors.

"My biggest challenge was last year, the challenge of winning one more. Once I did that, I felt I really had climbed a tall mountain."

Sampras spoke on several topics during Monday's pre-ceremony media conference, including his stunning loss to Stefan Edberg in the 1992 U.S. Open final.

"It made me hate to lose," he recalled. "I just became obsessed with being the best."

"He's been one of the greatest male players to ever have played," Lindsay Davenport said. "And at the same time, he's always been slightly overshadowed by Andre and some of the other players, which is pretty unique.

"What I admire most about him is how he was able to win the U.S. Open last year. It seemed, for two years, he was just struggling and struggling.

"Everyone had pretty much written him off. And then he comes through."

Nicknamed "Pistol Pete," Sampras won 64 ATP tournaments, including an unprecedented 14 Grand Slams.

"The slam record was something that was really important to me," he admitted. "I worked hard, I focused on it."

A slick server and crisp shotmaker with cat-like reflexes and crafty court-sense, the French Open was the lone major to elude Sampras.

"It's a disappointment not winning in Paris," he shrugged. "But I don't think about it much."

"He was just one of the most graceful players of all time, one of the most quietly competitive players of all time, one of the best pressure players of all time," Andy Roddick observed. "The bigger the match was, the better he played.

"And he didn't make a big fuss about things. He just made his name by winning."

Sampras shone brightest at Wimbledon, winning a record-tying seven times (1993-95, 1997-2000).

His 286 weeks atop the world rankings and $43 million US in career earnings are ATP records (1993-1998).

"Staying at No. 1 for six consecutive years is an incredibly demanding thing," Courier explained. "He was able to stay healthy and stay hungry and continue to win at a very competitive time.

"He was playing against some tremendous all-time champions -- Boris and Stefan and Andre -- and still dominating. Those guys are some of the best that ever played."

Asked if he considers himself the greatest ever, Sampras responded: "I will never sit here and say I'm the greatest ever. I've done what I've done in the game.

"I've won a number of majors. I think that's kind of the answer to everything.

"I don't know if there's one best player of all time. I feel my game will match up to just about anybody.

"I played perfect tennis at times, in my mind."

with files from Sports Network