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Double Fault

Peter Fischer, the pediatric endocrinologist who helped coach and mold tennis star Pete Sampras, will be sentenced next week to six years in state prison for molesting children. Under a plea bargain, Fischer has admitted guilt on two counts of unlawful penetration, while 11 other counts against him will be dismissed, said Deputy District Attorney Eloise Phillips. Upon his release from prison, Fischer will be registered as a sex offender.

The Tuesday sentencing, in Norwalk Superior Court, will bring a quiet and swift resolution to a case that rocked the wealthy South Bay tennis circle that spawned Sampras, the world's top-ranked player. Sampras was seven years old when he first met Fischer at the Jack Kramer Tennis Club in Rolling Hills Estates. Despite the fact that Fischer had no previous coaching experience, he helped hone Sampras' game to a brilliant finish.

Without Fischer's generous assistance, "I don't know what I would've done," Sampras once said. "I don't know what I would've been."

But some former male patients of the 56-year-old physician told a starkly different story. At a preliminary hearing, one alleged victim testified that Fischer regularly molested him every two months over several years, when he came in for scheduled treatment. He testified that Fischer would tell him to take off his pants, then insert his finger in the boy's anus. Fischer, a resident of tony Rolling Hills, practiced medicine for 20 years at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Bellflower.

After Fischer was arraigned in May on the charge of molesting a 14-year-old patient, three former patients, all in their 20s, came forward with claims that as teenagers they, too, had been abused. Prosecutors said that the children were molested at the doctor's office or at his home, between 1986 and 1996.

"The fact that Dr. Fischer was a pediatrician made this a particularly horrible case," said Phillips. "He violated a trust."

The four alleged victims were prepared to testify against Fischer, and Phillips said that other unnamed accusers had also come forward to authorities. The plea bargain "was a good disposition because the victims didn't have to go through a trial," she said.

The molestation cases never had any apparent connection to Fischer's coaching relationship with Sampras. The two parted company when Sampras was 18. In a later interview, Sampras said that "[Fischer's] a weird guy, but brilliant. Maybe too brilliant. He wanted to put his brain into my body."

"Until I was 16, I did everything Pete said," Sampras said in another interview. "Then I started to rebel."

For his part, Fischer would assert that it was necessary to drive Sampras hard. "Pete is like my Doberman, Hitler. You've got to hit him with a two-by-four to get his attention."

Fischer and Sampras eventually reconciled, and the tennis ace sometimes sought out his former mentor for advice. But Sampras also made a point of not allowing Fischer to attend his matches or coach him again.

Sampras has supported Fischer since his arrest a year ago, stating that he never saw or heard about any unseemly behavior. Through his agent, Sampras refused comment on the latest developments, saying only that "Pete Fischer is a friend. The whole situation is sad."

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