“The day I knocked out Pete Sampras”

Oct 30, 2012, 4:44:05 PM

Of Guillaume Raoux, we know his inseparable glasses and his victory in the 1996 Davis cup by BNP Paribas as the cornerstone of the French doubles team. But his career really took off with a bang during the BNP...

Of Guillaume Raoux, we know his inseparable glasses and his victory in the 1996 Davis cup by BNP Paribas as the cornerstone of the French doubles team. But his career really took off with a bang during the BNP Paribas Masters in 1990. Having battled through the qualification rounds, Raoux, then 20 years old, knocked out the recent winner of the US Open (6-3, 3-6, 6-3). A young man called Pete Sampras. Nearly 22 years later, the Frenchman looks back on what he refuses to describe as a feat.

  Tell us about your journey before this match against Pete Sampras? I have no recollection of my opponents in the qualifiers. Then, I remember playing Filippini and Pérez-Roldan, a pretty good draw for quick courts and I was drawn against Pete Sampras in the last sixteen. I was just 20, him 19. Except that he had just won the US Open. He was maybe not so well known to the general public yet, but was already ranked 5th in the world.  I was in a period when I was playing very well. I arrived with a lot of confidence on a surface that I liked and after five victories. I went into the match without worrying too much and determined to have a good time. It was my first big match, on a show court and on top of it, it was at home.   What did you know about Sampras? He was softer than the Sampras he was to become. His service was already very good but his backhand was much flakier than later in his career. I decided to be very aggressive on his weaknesses and to play serve-and-volley on both first and second serves.   Tell us about the match… I don't remember much of what happened during the game. I saw it again the week after, but it's impossible to find footage of it today. My parents maybe have an old tape of it at home, I should try to find it and digitize it. But to be really honest, I don't even remember if I won the first set.   You won it 6-3… Ok. I knew it was in three sets at least. I remember a return game in the third set where I was only going for winners. I broke Sampras and held my serve. But I don't have very precise memories of the match; I mostly remember the emotion when I won. I was 20 then and his victory helped my career to take off.   Did you realize the enormity of what you had just accomplished? We can't classify this victory amongst the greatest feats of French sport. To beat a player, once, in a match, it's part of our job. So yes, in a match, I've beaten Pete Sampras. I'm very happy about it but it's not a feat. I've also beaten Chang - then 2nd in the world - at the Australian Open, won a tournament in Brisbane and won the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. In the way I see tennis, winning a quarter-final match cannot be classed as “a feat”. I played tennis for fifteen years. Fortunately, I played a few good matches (laughs). But, well, I also had a few bad ones as well.   Did this victory change your career? I went from being a Joe Bloggs to someone who was being recognized in the street. The day after, I remember going to buy the magazine L’Equipe near my house in Boulogne-Billancourt to treat myself. Everybody recognized me and congratulated me. I realized what this result meant. I didn't win Roland Garros, I had just beaten the 5th ranked player in the world but this little thing changed my status. In moments of doubt, I would remember that game thinking that I could beat a Top 10 player. I thought that if I did it once, I could do it again.   Would you have imagined that Sampras could win twelve more Grand Slam tournaments after? It's hard to tell what a player will become. Chang won Roland Garros at 17 but never won another Grand Slam. People used to say that Sampras could become very strong, but there are so many factors that come into play. At 19, there was no certainty. He already had his service and his gunshot forehand, but then to predict such a career…   Did you have the opportunity to meet him again after that game? I played against him again twice for two very tight games. I remember making him fight in Tokyo where I won the second set in the tiebreak. I don’t know why, but I could read his service better than other players could.   You have moved away from tennis, what do you do today? I work for the Vivalto group in Paris, in the retirement homes industry. But I'm still in tennis, even though I'm quite busy with work. I am the captain of the Tennis Club de Boulogne-Billancourt in the first division and I commentate on Roland Garros for the international signal.   Interview by Alexandre Pedro