09/08/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Of all the stunning things he has done on a tennis court, this had to be the most stunning: Pete Sampras cried uncontrollably.
The best and least demonstrative player of his generation—and perhaps of all time—shed enough tears to embarrass even his 9-month-old son Christian, who along with Sampras's actress wife, Bridgette Wilson, was by his side when he officially retired at an emotional Aug. 25 ceremony on the first night of the U.S. Open in New York City. "He liked being at home with Bridgette and Christian, and his motivation to get out and [practice] was lessened," says his friend John Black, who gave Sampras Wilson's cell phone number in 1999. "Now he's building memories and a life with them."
At only 32, Sampras could have kept playing. Just last year he broke out of a long slump by upsetting Andre Agassi to win an electrifying U.S. Open, his record 14th Grand Slam singles title and the crowning victory of his 15-year career. "It was his first slam title since the marriage to Bridgette [in 2000]," says Black. "Being able to share it with her was important." But this spring Sampras trained for all of three days before realizing he'd rather be changing diapers. "My heart wasn't in it," he said before receiving a three-minute standing ovation that triggered the waterworks. "I'm retiring because I have nothing to prove to myself."
And so the graceful, tenacious kid from Palos Verdes, Calif., put down the racket he first picked up at age 7. His plans now include playing more golf and chasing Christian around the English country estate in Beverly Hills he shares with Wilson. "I see him at barbecues," says Black. "And I think he and Bridgette will have more kids."
You know what that means: He's probably going to start crying again.