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Driven by dreams

The most unforgettable moment of my life was beating legend Pete Sampras, says Paul-Henri Mathieu


THE OTHER day, Paul-Henri Mathieu walked out of Court 2 at the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium clutching his left wrist, dejection writ large on his face. A twist while on a backhand return in the match against Kenneth Carlsen had forced him to concede his first round encounter in the just-concluded Tata Open.

It was yet another of the many disappointing moments the Frenchman has encountered in his four-year-old professional career. At 22, Mathieu is another youngster journeying on the Tour, driven by dreams, hoping to realise them. But then, in the highly competitive world of professional sport, only a few, a very few, get to live that moment.

Mathieu did not allow injuries, which needed arthroscopic surgeries, in both knees to deter him. In fact, he went on to win the French Open juniors in 2000. A place in the Top-100 in 2003 for a second successive year was a step up indeed.

Unlike many others, Mathieu has already a place in tennis history — his own little space which none can claim. He happens to be the last player to defeat the sport's legend Pete Sampras, winner of a record 14 Grand Slam titles. This was at Long Island, New York, on August 10, 2002, in the second round of the TD Waterhouse Cup. Next up was the U.S. Open which Sampras won and didn't play thereafter.

"It is the most unforgettable moment of my life. I grew up idolising greats such as Sampras and Becker. Even to play him was an honour," said Mathieu, who had earlier that year lost to another of his heroes, Andre Agassi, in fourth round of the French Open.

When did you realise you would be the last to beat Sampras? "During last year, when he wasn't playing anymore. It struck me then. Sampras was talking about retirement. I even began wishing that he'd quit without playing."

When did you come to terms with it, for one so young? "Took me a long time. Also gave me tremendous confidence. I remember every detail of it. The score line was 6-4, 6-7, 6-4 and the surface, hard court."

It was Mathieu's only meeting with Sampras, who finished with a singles career record of 762-222.

SANJAY RAJAN

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