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Pete Sampras and the French Open

There are very few tennis players who have won all four of the recognized Grand Slams - the U.S. Open, Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. One of the players who has done it is Roger Federer, who is now the all-time leader in Grand Slam victories. He passed America's Pete Sampras, who would otherwise be the leader, except for his absolute inability to win at Roland Garros. In fact, relative to his overall career exploits, Sampras has been a dismal failure in the tournament.

Consider that in thirteen appearances in Paris, Sampras has only made it to the semi-finals once, and as far as the quarter-finals just four times. While his match record in the other three majors is a sizzling 179-25, with fourteen championships, his record in the French Open is a rather pedestrian 24-13. How could that be?

Well, it's not such a mystery. Sampras was felled by the same thing that prevented a lot of great players, including countless other Americans, from achieving the career Grand Slam, which was an inability to succeed on clay, a surface that is very different from the hard courts that host the Australian and U.S. Opens, or the slick grass at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club. It is slower, and it just doesn't adapt well to everybody's game, especially if one wins with power. Players do not specialize on grass, because there are only a couple of tournaments on the surface. But there are a lot of players who specialize on clay, or otherwise play it extensively, to the extent that there is literally a cay court "season." They are going to have a natural edge.

Sampras shouldn't feel all that bad, as Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang are the only U.S.-based players to win the French Open since 1955. Some players are going to feel right at home on clay; Rafael Nadal, who is great on all surfaces, has won at Roland Garros in nine of the last ten years.

Gamblers could learn something from all this, which is that there are "horses for courses," and most certainly others who seem allergic to such surroundings, And when evaluating sports of any kind, this is an important consideration.

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