Remembering Pete Sampras' leap into the pro ranks

Wednesday February 29th, 2012

Pete Sampras, who turned pro as a 16-year-old in 1988, burst onto the scene in 1990 when he beat Andre Agassi in the U.S. Open final. (Manny Millan/Icon SMI)

Twenty four years ago today, a lanky 16-year-old high school junior from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., named Pete Sampras ditched classes to play Indian Wells. As if the heavens were signaling this kid might be special, Sampras won his first main-draw match that day, Feb. 29, 1988, defeating No. 37 Ramesh Krishnan. Sampras, ranked No. 893 with one career match under his belt, saved five match points in the third-set tiebreaker against his 26-year-old opponent to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9).

"He serves and plays the net very well, which is impressive," Krishnan said at the time. "He's 16 and playing great. It's very difficult to tell how good when you're that young, but he does have a lot of potential."

Sampras, who qualified for the tournament and skipped four days of school during his appearance, would go on to upset 25th-ranked Eliot Teltscher 7-5, 6-3. After losing to No. 18 Emilio Sanchez 7-5, 6-2 in the third round, Sampras turned pro and the rest is history.

"My one goal is to win Wimbledon someday," a green Sampras said then. "It's been my goal for the last four years. That doesn't mean I will do it. But I can."

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.