The Coefficient Of Friction Of Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras is hairy, great at tennis, and better than Andre Agassi, Michael Chang. He won several US Opens

Here’s a question for ya.. 

When is the last time you read a human interest piece about Pete Sampras?

Here’s a better question for ya..

Have you ever read a human interest piece about Pete Sampras?


That’s shocking.

Chest hair. Either you have it, or you don’t. Or you have a random smattering of it. But there is no gray area. 

Only a gray hair-ea.

Pete Sampras might not be the father of the modern game of Tennis, but he’s got ties to their Royal Family. A family that isn’t bound by biology, but by the blood and sweat left on the surface and the grand slam trophies hoisted in the air. A family lacking hair of chest on their crest until Pete Sampras played his way in.

The lineage of “modern” Tennis can be summarized by tracing the 'passing of the torch.'  It goes back to Bobby Riggs who passed the torch on to Jack Kramer who gave it to Pancho Gonzalez. The crown went from Gonzalez to Ken Rosewall and he handed it to Rod Laver. Rod Laver named a few arenas, and then turned the game over briefly to Jimmy Connors who determined that Björn Borg was a better suitor. Borg gave way to John McEnroe who gave way to Ivan Lendl. Lendl slowly relinquished the title of heir, the title earned by none other than Pete Sampras.

Before his time, it was common knowledge that a tennis star couldn’t perform with a Body Hair Index (square inch of body hair per 100lb. of body weight) greater than 40 (Connors was once labeled as “pushing the envelope.")

Prior to Sampras, it was the norm for a tennis star to look about as masculine as the Dutch Boy. For years it was the baby face being the face of the sport

After the infusion of Sampras, it became okay to be as hairy as an Italian truck driver. 

Who would have thought that such a consistently dominant presence lacking flair (basically, the Andy Pettitte of the ATP) could have possibly brought about such a watershed moment for all of Tennis? At the time, it looked like another dominant presence was asserting himself atop the world rankings. But what those actively looking didn't see, was a door opening. 

You're welcome, Roger Federer.

Federer may admit that Sampras is an influence. But he won’t go as far to say he’s his “hair-apparent.”

Federer will likely claim that it was hard-work, diligence, natural talent, and detail-oriented preparation that got him to where he is. What he won't claim, is that he broke through on a trail that was blazed by Sampras. A gentleman’s game that used to be offered only to the well-groomed social elite, professional Tennis was once an exclusive club that implicitly denied hairy men. It wasn’t until the woolly warrior Sampras created some friction against the institution of tennis, leading to what we see now: hairy men that are commonplace on center court.

Tennis was once opposed to the idea of a hyper-masculine poster boy. But now we know nothing but this sort. And it was all because Pete proved us otherwise, merging and dissipating the myths.
He ushered in an era of Men’s Tennis as a sport fueled by testosterone while still forging gentlemen. Making it the intense version of golf. A sport of integrity and class, sportsmanship and humility. A sport that until he arrived, was not sponsored by Barbasol.

There was no one like Sampras before his time, and someone that was sort of like him shortly after. But what Sampras did, and what he represented, created a now-noticeable impact. So influential to me in fact, that a non-avid tennis fan such as myself is writing about him years later, in the month of Movember