Tuesday 7 July 2015


The end of an era - Pete Sampras just played his final Wimbledon game
Injuries, the single impediment for any athlete's progress comes unexpectedly - disrupting the plans, goals and in some cases one's career. Even with the latest technological aids and medical facilities available, the coping and recovery mechanisms are not formulated to suit everybody. While one recovers and continues to play their sport, others might have to look for alternatives beside sport.

This has been the case with George Bastl, the tall Swiss who emulated the feat of his fellow country man Roger Federer in 2002. Perhaps, the only common thing Federer and Bastl share in tennis happens to be 'Sampras' and defeating the champion on a territory which the American had made his own. If Roger Federer won a closely fought encounter in 2001 (4th round), George Bastl's triumph had the shades comparable to David overcoming Goliath. On a Wednesday, what people thought about being another opponent for Sampras progress - it came as a shock to see him ousted in a second round match to a lucky loser ranked 145 in the world.

Oh yes, the superstitious and the infamous patterns keep coming no matter what. Not very often you find big names play outside of Court No. 1 or the centre court. The second round encounter between the seven-time Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras and the unknown George Bastl was scheduled at Court No.2 - also known as the 'graveyard of the champions'. As it turned out, the second round match was the last time Sampras played at the All England Club.

The crowd could not believe what was happening as Bastl raced to a two-set lead. It appeared as though Sampras was not in his best frame of mind. He was seen reading notes between the games written by his wife Bridgette Wilson - "Remember, you're the greatest player who has ever held a racket in the hand". It did fire him up and the next two sets, he showed his aggressive game as Bastl found it difficult to break his serve or put any pressure on it. The American won 6-4, 6-3 to make it two sets all.

Those words from his wife kept Sampras going - only to a point
Enter fifth set and this is where the mental game of the players came into play as bodies started to worn out. Sampras had seen it all before and importantly he knew how to win from such situations  - whereas Bastl had never won a five-setter before after turning professional. He had nothing to lose and unless he won this encounter, he knew this would be just another match.

The games raced, one by one with each player holding his serve. In the eighth game with Bastl serving, Sampras had two break points while leading 4-3. From 15-40 down, Bastl served his way to level the scores and then remarkably broke the American's serve in the next game. Just when Sampras seemed like getting back to his ominous rhythm, Bastl played four perfect points to break his serve. The match was turned all of a sudden and so did the fortunes. Sampras, unless he had something else to showcase was staring at his worst exit at Wimbledon since 1991. He sat motionless, looked out of sorts and it took time to face the fact - he's out of the tournament.

No matter what one's past records are, it is a challenge to remain at the top of the game consistently with time. If Sampras was outdone by one Swiss in 2001, the next year another Swiss knocked him out. "I have not lost the game, Bastl won it. At the end, he was mentally much stronger than I, and that you have to recognise". The drama, the disappointment and the pain of such a defeat only showed what a great champion Sampras was throughout his career, especially in Wimbledon. At the press conference after the defeat - "I plan on being back. I'm not going to end my time here with that loss. I really felt I could do it here and I feel really bummed out. I feel like I can win one major - I will continue to play."  It wasn't that Sampras played badly or was in poor form. Those 'two words' can be a dampener to give credit where it is due. Bastl played the game of his life and after all, Sampras did went on to win the US Open a few months later.

George Bastl played the game of his life to oust the seven-time champion 

Unlike Roger Federer, George Bastl didn't even make it to the top 70 in his entire life. The win over Pete Sampras remained his only shining glory of his career. Ask any of the tennis fans, they remember Bastl for that reason - and for that alone. His life post that match changed and he was recognised by quite a few people on the circuit. While tennis career never took off, he had to focus on other avenue to sustain his livelihood. He earned a finance degree from a university in California and now works in the same industry. Over the years, any interview with Bastl is incomplete without being asked about 'that' match. Those wonderful memories remain just that - memories. 

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