SI senior writer Sally Jenkins looks back at the life of Tim
Gullikson, who died of brain cancer last Friday at age 44:
What made Tim Gullikson extraordinary in the tennis world were
his ordinary values. As a player he worked hard, cracking the
Top 20 in the late 1970s on limited talent, and as a coach he
gave something back to the game, whether he was instructing a
no-name club player or turning a gangly underachiever named Pete
Sampras into the best player of the succeeding generation.
Gullikson's career stands as a lesson for a sport in which too
often people are felled by burnout or spoiled by excess.
From the day in January 1995 when Gullikson's cancer was
discovered until he died last week at his house in Wheaton,
Ill., he was never heard to utter, "Why me?" Instead he showed
the same determined optimism and competitive spirit he had
applied to all his endeavors, whether it was upsetting John
McEnroe in the fourth round at Wimbledon in '79, refining some
of the rough edges in Martina Navratilova's game or transforming
Sampras into a champion for the ages. "He fought hard," said
Gullikson's twin brother, Tom, the U.S. Davis Cup captain, last
week, "and he never complained. I was proud of him. In an
industry known these days for selfishness, Tim was known for
Tim spent his last days surrounded by family: wife Rosemary; son
Erik, 13; and daughter Megan, 9. Sampras said goodbye to his
coach a few days before his death, while Gullikson was still
able to respond to visitors. Not long before, Sampras had
struggled visibly with the impending loss of Gullikson, who
guided him to six Grand Slam titles in three years and became
his closest confidant. "I've thought about not having Tim in my
life," Sampras said. "And though it's hard saying it, I might
not care whether I win or lose."
Gullikson would not have approved. A month ago he was still
counseling Sampras, whom he fondly referred to as "the gold
standard." On the phone from his sickbed, while watching Sampras
play in the Lipton Championships in March, Gullikson declared
his hope of attending this year's French Open and Wimbledon
tournaments, despite an incident that suggested traveling was
risky for him. On the flight home from his last public
appearance, at the U.S.-Sweden Davis Cup semifinal in Las Vegas
in September, Gullikson had been stricken by what he called "a
little seizure." He had to be hospitalized for several days.
Nevertheless he longed to rejoin Sampras on the circuit. "Maybe
it's wishful thinking," he said, "but I hope I can go. It's just
a matter of health."
In the end that was all that stopped Gullikson from continuing
to be everything he could be.