Boris Becker gently placed his hand on Pete Sampras’ shoulder at the net after losing, leaned over and whispered that this match was the last he would ever play at Wimbledon.
Sampras looked stunned, not quite sure he’d heard what was said.
They stood there a few moments in the fading light Thursday, Wimbledon’s dominant men of the 1980s and ‘90s, each a three-time champion, and spoke with a mutual admiration that transcended a sometimes testy rivalry.
“I was glad it would be against him,” Becker said, “because I respect him so much, and because he’s such a great champion.”
Sampras had just beaten Becker for the third time on Centre Court, the place the German long called “my home.”
And Becker knew he would stick to the decision he made before the tournament began, but had told no one except his wife, Barbara.
He pondered his retirement from Grand Slam play one last time while sitting in the Royal Box during the three-hour rain delay that interrupted the quarterfinal match after just 12 minutes. Sampras was already leading 3-1 in the first set.
“At that moment, I was still trying to think about the match because I obviously knew that it could be my last one,” Becker said. “I wanted to do good and I wanted to win.”
He knew that retirement was the right decision.
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